Milk’s Part in Sustainable Agriculture
A dairy cow in a pasture feels like a long way from the milk in our refrigerators and at our tables. But the distance between the farm and your family is shorter and more sustainable than you might think. Dairy farmers are committed to sharing milk’s vital nutrients in more environmentally conscious ways by reducing the environmental impact of dairy farming and they’re making great strides today and with each generation.
Sometimes it might feel difficult to balance your family’s nutritional needs with a sustainable diet that’s best for the planet, but dairy milk production uses fewer resources than ever while providing a nutrient package like few other foods or beverages.
Compared with 75 years ago, the production of one gallon of milk requires:
65 percent less water
90 percent less land
76 percent less manure
Those reductions translate into a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint of milk today than it did in 1944. Farmers want to do even better and have committed to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, using 2007/2008 as the baseline, in yet another example of their commitment to sustainable agriculture.
In fact, U.S. dairy contributes just 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe), and accounts for 5.1 percent water withdrawal and 3.7 percent of U.S. farmland use. For comparison purposes, the largest contributor to GHGe in the U.S. is the transportation sector, which accounted for 28.5 percent of GHGe as of 2016.
Among the more than 47,000 dairy farms in the U.S., family farmers own and operate 97 percent of them. These farms range in size from just a couple dozen cows to more than 500, with the majority falling in the range of 50 to 99 cows. Many farms have been in families for generations, and farmers take their responsibility to be more efficient and make sustainable food seriously, because doing so is in the best interest of their cows and their livelihoods.
Farmers, who work the land and care for the animals that help nourish us, understand that resources are finite and must be handled wisely. From using sustainable cow feed to reusing water and re-purposing manure for fertilizer, farmers improve their operating practices, reduce waste and contribute to a better environment for us today and our children and grandchildren in the future.
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