Archive for the ‘NorthEast DairyBusiness’ Category

Reducing Dairy’s Carbon Footprint

U.S. dairy’s carbon footprint per pound of milk produced has shrunk nearly 70% in six decades. It will get even smaller in the years ahead.

By Mike Van Amburgh, Judith Capper and Dale Bauman

The dairy industry has made remarkable progress over the past 50 to 60 years in supplying adequate, safe and affordable dairy products to a growing and changing population. At the same time, the industry’s structure and geographical distribution has undergone huge changes. There is also an increased emphasis on “environmentally-friendly” food production.
A recent report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization implicated livestock production as a global environmental threat, because of land erosion and production of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Ruminant animals produce methane, carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide, all of which have significant global warming potential (GWP).
It’s important to recognize that methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2; nitrous oxide is 298 times more potent. That means small amounts of each gas – methane and nitrous oxide – will still have significant impacts.

Giant strides
Given the media and public interest in the carbon footprint of various aspects of society, we examined the carbon footprint of dairy production as it has evolved during the past 60 years. This is an important exercise for the dairy industry, giving context to any GWP number. A snapshot of dairy production’s carbon footprint might unintentionally mislead a retailer or consumer, since few values exist for comparison.
A number of reports have been issued during the past several years, primarily from the United Kingdom and European Union, regarding the carbon footprint of various production strategies. In general, they showed an average value of 1.4 lbs. of CO2 equivalent per pound of milk produced. Many of these reports exclude the cow’s CO2 production, assuming that because cows are vegetarians and consume plant materials, their CO2 production is recaptured and recycled.

Fewer cows, more milk
Two of the biggest changes in the dairy industry since the mid-1940s have been the dramatic increase in the amount of milk produced per cow and the dramatic decrease in the number of cows required to produce a given amount of milk. Consider:
• In the mid-1940s, approximately 25 million cows averaged about 4,500 lbs. of milk per lactation. The U.S. population was 138 million people.
• Today, about 9 million cows produce approximately 20,000 lbs. of milk per lactation. The U.S. population is more than 300 million.
• That’s 2.2 times as many people, with 59% fewer cows.
What does this mean for the overall resources required to produce a given amount of milk? Our work shows that dairy production systems in 1944 required two-to-four times the amount of various resources and produced two-to-four times the amount of excreted nutrients and emissions compared to 2006. There were approximately 4.1 times as many cows producing milk for 57% fewer consumers. Those cows required 4.5 times as much land and produced 2.6 times more methane.
This is a significant change in resource allocation, and demonstrates the tremendous efficiency increase the dairy industry has made.

Bottom line footprint
In 1944, the calculated CO2 production was 10 lbs. per 1 lb. of milk. Compare that to 2006, when the calculated CO2 production was 3 lbs. per 1 lb. of milk, nearly a 70% decrease.
How have dairy producers achieved this reduction in the carbon footprint of dairy production? Most of it relates directly to all the things that have increased milk per cow: genetics and artificial insemination, forage quality, better nutrition, grouping strategies, improved heifer rearing and use of technologies such as recombinant bovine somatotropin and Rumensin. All these things have increased milk per cow and enabled production of more milk with fewer cows.
This is a remarkable achievement, but the dairy industry has opportunities to reduce its footprint even more through advances in nutritional strategies.

• Mike VanAmburgh is an associate professor, Judith Capper is a post-doctoral research associate and Dale Bauman is Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University.  Reach VanAmburgh via phone: 607-254-4910 or e-mail: Contact Bauman via phone: 607-255-2262 or e-mail:

Dairy 20/20 –What’s your competitive advantage?

By Susan Harlow, editor
Northeast DairyBusiness

Competitive advantage – what do countries, regions, individual dairies have that gives them a business edge over their competitors? What can producers do to manage that competitive advantage?
That was the theme for Dairy Analysis 20/20, billed as East Meets West Multistate Business Analysis Workshop, which met in Gettysburg, Pa., in June. Now in its second year, the workshop brings together producers from around the country to analyze financial and management practices and exchange information.
The event is organized by Penn State Dairy Alliance, collaborating with Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program, the University of Florida, New Mexico State University and AgChoice Farm Credit.
Producers from the 12 participating dairies submitted financial data ahead of time. During the meeting, all participants got a chance to analyze each other’s numbers and benchmark their own. The experience was invaluable, several of them said.
“This is where the rubber meets the road with the numbers,” said Lloyd Holterman of Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Watertown, Wis. “Here, we look at specific dairies’ numbers and ask how you got them. You can see the impact on profits.”
Industry benchmarks are helpful but not nearly as useful as seeing financial data from other dairies and being able to ask specific questions about them, he said.
New Mexico producer Doug Hubby, who milks 6,000 cows in the Clovis-Portales area, said he was enlightened by the chance to see production and financial details and talk to producers from other parts of the country.

Competitive advantage – what do you have?

The geographical spread of producers offered a good entry point for a discussion of competitive advantage. For instance, said co-coordinator Brad Hilty of Penn State Dairy Alliance, New Mexico has certain advantages – lower living and facility costs, a consistent, large herd size, a political climate welcoming to dairy. Some are less obvious – the lack of humidity means New Mexico producers don’t deal with liquid manure.
The state also has weaknesses such as high feed costs, much of it due to competing with West Texas dairies for alfalfa. Nor do producers have the opportunity to do much peer-to-per analysis – just what the Dairy 20/20 was set up for.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, does have a dairy industry active in educating producers. It also has a better milk price and available water and forage.
Competitive advantages are often in flux. “Competitive advantage never lasts,” said Bob Barley, a Conestoga, Pa., producer. “Once it’s repeatable, it’s over. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward.”
The competitive advantage now may be shifting to producers who own their own land and can grow their own corn. Oil prices are another catalyst. “Fuel is one factor that has shifted competitive advantage to the Northeast as transportation costs increase,” Hilty said.
He outlined four areas that producers should work to gain competitive advantage: revenue control, cost control, asset control and managerial competence.

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