Dairy Companies Hoping to Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Dairy and livestock companies have been closely scrutinized by environmental and governmental agencies not only for humane treatment of animals, but also to measure the carbon footprint of making something simple, like a gallon of milk. In the past, emissions from dairy accounted for 7 percent of the total US emissions, recent changes and an updated report shows reduced numbers.

The Innovation Center for US Dairy (ICUSD) have made a goal to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and have identified 12 projects that will reduce emissions by 12 percent and create $238 million in revenue:

  • Focusing on nutrient management techniques for the dairy feed system that will produce grain and forage on fairms.
  • Energy audits for dairy producers.
  • Reduce methane gases in cows by adopting innovative practices and technologies.
  • Find ways to change methane emissions to viable sources of energy for farmers.
  • Coordinate cross-industry efforts to shape government regulation and conduct of markets for digester adoption.
  • Dairy Processing Carbon through Energy Efficiency (D-CREE) – identify and adopt energy efficient practice for milk processing plants
  • Adbot nonthermal UV technology as alternate energy alternative for heat-based pasteurization.
  • Assessing next generation Clean-In-Place (CIP) to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions for processors.
  • Assess environmentail impact of current packagin and processing technologies for fluid milk products
  • Environmentally Sustainable Methods for Achieving Responsible Transportation (E-SMART) – Adopt transportation and distribution fuel efficiency best practices.
  • Identify and secure fudinging for greenhouse gas reduction projects.
  • Communite strategy and awareness of greenhouse reduct goas, projects, best practices, and results.

Many farms have already begun looking into ways to convert methane into a viable alternative energy source, while others have looked into manure. In fact, China has looked into developing the largest cow manure-fed biogas plant in the world. Huishan Farms has 250,000 cows (compared to 15,000 for the largest US dairy farm) and with help from General Electrics (GE) plan to produce 38,00 megawatt-hours of power annually. Of the thousands of dairy farms in the US, however, only 24 have digesters mainly due to a lack of economic incentive. For many farmers, the investment in these machines may take up to 10 years to recoup losses, and without better incentives (carbon offsets are not a major driver behind projects) like higher rates for renewable electricity as well as tax credits [Source: New York Times]. Other ways to cut back on emissions is for dairy farmers to go organic. According to the “Shades of Green (PDF)” report by the Organic Center, changing to organic would lead to:

  • a 40 million pounds reduction in application of synthetic nitrogen
  • nearly 800,000 pounds reduction in pesticides and herbicides
  • nearly 1.8 million fewer hormone and antibiotic treatments.

A recent greehouse gas emissions study by the IUSCD reports that dairy farmers have improved efficiency and general farm practices. The 2010 report states that dairy farms and associated products accounts for only 2 percent of the US emissions. This number encompasses the entire process of creating a gallon of milk from the crops grown for cow feed to packaging and delivery. According to the report, carbon footprint for the dairy industry have 63 percent since 1944 mainly due to improved production efficiency and nutrition management [Source: USDA]  Introducing more sustainable practices like changing livestock feed to perennial crops rather than annual and adding solar panels or wind turbines will help to further reduce emissions, though focus remains on ways to capture and use the methane gas expelled from the cows.

The study is encouraging, however there are still many problems. For example, how can dairy farmers prevent cows from emitting so much methane? Is it simply a diet change or will it lead to more genetic modificiation? Other issues to consider besides environmental impact is the humane treatment of these animals. For the aforementioned projects to make an impact, there needs to be more transparency and accountability, not only for the dairy farmers, but for the organizations overseeing these projects.

Jasmine Greene

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Michelle Staples
Michelle Staples4 years ago

Or eliminate dairies. Since they are morally reprehensible and we do not NEED to consume dairy products, this would seem to be a better solution. The average life of a dairy cow is: females 5-7 yrs; males less than a year. The life span of a cow is about 24 yrs.

Grace A.
Grace Adams5 years ago

Sheep rented as woolly lawnmowers can be rented with or without diapers. Could a diaper be made to fit a cow? I once saw an add for an activated charcoal stuffed seat pad to capture human farts. It was meant as a gag, but it would be a way to capture methane from cows if somebody could figure out how to make it fit a cow.

Sarah D.
Sarah D.5 years ago

"Hell is a dairy concentraation camp."

It's inaccurate and idiotic to compare dairy farms to a concentration camp. It doesn't make you sound very credible either, and it won't make people want to change their diet.

laura r.
laura r.5 years ago

genetic modification added to the list of beyond obscene atrocities already practiced by the sicko dairy industry is no surprise. Stop eating meat...every mouthful of the beef you consume comes from a helpless creature who suffers endlessly from birth to the slaughter house. Hell is a dairy concentraation camp.

Ramona Thompson
Ramona Thompson5 years ago

(Jennifer there are Certified Humane Farms and you can request your grocer get their products 100% from them. Check out their website.) After the Conklin and Reitz Dairy Farms torture videos which I made myself watch in order to be more informed to lodge complaints, etc., I hesitated to open this. I am glad I did.

Jumping from methane problems into genetically modified cows is jumping from the frying pan into a volcano. Listen there is an abundance of cow manure. Holland has taken steps to "green their garbage and wastes" including cow manure. Why can't the USA take a look at the countries on the leading edge of "green-ness"? It could even open up another avenue of revenue for Corporate Greed that is running rampant, only this time in a good way for the good of the planet and not just for the financial benefits of the Corporation or Corporate Executives.

Ann W.
Ann W.5 years ago

Genetically modified cows? Isn't that sci-fi gone wrong?

Roberta B.
Roberta Balfour5 years ago

They may reach their target but it will as usual be at the expense of the animals. Dairy cows are the most abused farm animals, however kind any individual farmer might be, because they have to have a calf annually which is then removed, causing great grief to both, so we can take the milk. They are artificially inseminated - a euphemism for rape. They are now giving about 3 times as much milk as normal. How much does that weigh, plus the calf that's growing within them for 9 months of every year. No wonder "they like being milked 3 times a day now". No wonder they're finished at about 5 years of age when their proper lifespan is 25 to 30 years. You can be absolutely positive none of this is going to get better through work on greenhouse gas emissions - it'll get worse if that's possible. This is like an addict who can't see the simple answer to his problem - don't do it. He'll go through all sorts of convoluted machinations to hang on to his substance of choice, in this case milk.

Debbie W.
Past Member 5 years ago

25% reduction, even in the 10 years allotted ain't gonna happen. Why then, not go for a more sensible goal ... stop pushing factory farming "benefits", increasing pressure to produce more for-profit volumes w/o even considering the harm to animals and give some room for the small, family-owned farmers. Many are getting crowded out by this bigger-is-better attitude. It stinks!

Carole F.
Carole E.5 years ago

The solution is easy...go vegan!

Laureen N.
Laureen N.5 years ago

Jennifer, I fully agree with your last comment. What you said is, most unfortunately, very true.