While for most people, the distance between the milk in their fridge and the cow in a pasture feels like half a world away, in truth this distance is becoming shorter and more sustainable than you would think. All this is achieved thanks to the latest innovations that help reduce the impact that dairy farming has on the environment.
It is very difficult to find a balance between a sustainable diet and your nutritional needs but you can rest assured knowing that nowadays dairy milk production uses far fewer resources when compared to other industries.
The Latest Data
Compared to how things were looking a century ago, producing one gallon of milk nowadays requires about 90% less land, 76% less manure and 65% less water. These numbers are quite impressive and they translate into about a 63% smaller carbon footprint for each gallon of milk.
What’s most exciting is that this is just the beginning since farmers have pledged to do even better and they’re committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions even further, by about 25% by 2020 when using the 2007/2008 as the baseline. Sustainable agriculture is the future and the dairy industry is headed there.
In the U.S., dairy contributes to around 2% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, about 5.1% of the water withdrawal and 3.7% of farmland use. While these numbers still seem huge, we can put them into perspective by comparing them to the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector. This sector accounted for 28.5% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.
There are around 47,000 dairy farms in the US and more than 97% of them are operated by family farmers and range in size from just a couple of dozens of dairy cows to hundreds of them but the average dairy farm falls in the range of 50 to 99 cows.
More and more farmers are beginning to understand the importance of using sustainable farming methods. This includes using sustainable cow feed, reusing water, repurposing the manure for fertilizer and using more efficient equipment. You can take a look at a professional review by the guys from Silverlakefarms to see an example.
Cows Are Now Greener
Cows nowadays produce about 3 times more milk when compared to 50 years ago and this happens thanks to the huge improvements in the comfort that the cows receive, better herd management, feed efficiency, and better equipment. When a cow feels comfortable and relaxed and it is well-fed, it will produce more milk.
Producing more milk from a single cow helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions per gallon of milk. The emissions that cows produce come from the methane that they produce during the digestion process and storing their manure also further increases methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Thus, farms nowadays strive to have fewer cows that are more productive since this will not only help the farmers save money but it will also lower the environmental impact of the cows on the farm.
New Technology & Responsible Farming
The methane that cows produce is the main thing that farmers need to reduce in order to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and some dairy farms use what’s called a biodigester to transform the harmful methane into electricity.
There are also many farms that are 100% reliant on green energy by installing windmills or solar panels. It is also important for the farmers to use nutrients efficiently and minimize the risk of groundwater contamination which is why many farmers nowadays work with agrologists to create an approved nutrient management plan.
A sustainable diet for cows must be nutrient-rich, affordable and practical. Responsible use of pesticides is also very important and while they are still used to fight infestations of bugs or microbes that could destroy crops, efforts have been made to limit the use of pesticides overall.
The number of organic farms is ever-growing and the efforts that are being made today will help shape the world of tomorrow. Farmers are now committed to run more sustainable farms that are better for the people, the environment and the cows.
Exciting new technologies, better ventilation, automation of tasks and comfort will enable future farms to be efficient by using fewer resources which in turn will help reduce the carbon footprint of the dairy industry.