U.S. Dairy Advances Journey to Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050

Apr 9, 2024 | Announcements

U.S. Dairy Advances Journey to Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 
By: Theresa Sweeny-Murphy

In 2020 the U.S. dairy industry established industry-wide 2050 environmental stewardship goals to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) neutrality, optimize water use while maximizing recycling and improve water quality by optimizing the use of manure and nutrients. These goals reflect ambitions across the field, farm and processor levels of the industry and were set by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, a convening organization comprised of representative leadership across the dairy value chain including farmers, cooperatives, processors, retailers and other stakeholders.  

To support reaching these goals, the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative (NZI) launched in October 2020 as a learning journey. This essential first phase will produce the foundational research, on-farm pilots and assessments, local and regional networks and economic drivers that are key to unlocking dairy’s true potential. All of these items will accelerate progress toward GHG emissions reductions, water efficiency and water quality.  

NZI by the numbers

NZI was established by six national dairy organizations, including the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Dairy Management Inc., National Milk Producers Federation, International Dairy Foods Association, Newtrient, and U.S. Dairy Export Council. These organizations recognized the need to bring together different areas of the dairy industry, from strategy to policy to practice supporting action on the ground. Since launching, NZI has: 

  • Initiated and supported 26 projects spanning 338 farms across 19 states; 

  • Leveraged more than $40 million in support from partners and grants; 

  • Partnered with more than 66 institutions including corporations, land grant and research institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations and other dairy community stakeholders; 

  • Led nearly 100 presentations for national and international webinars, panels and forums; and 

  • Achieved recognition by national and international organizations, including the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate and U.S. Nature 4 Climate.   

Progress through projects 

NZI is working to close knowledge gaps and advance innovative solutions for dairy farmers. Through research, analysis, and modeling, the industry is identifying the most promising solutions, practices, and technologies that will accelerate progress toward its 2050 environmental goals. Highlights across NZI’s key strategic areas include: 

  • The Dairy Soil and Water Regeneration project (DSWR) is the largest soil health research project on dairy farms in the U.S. Over six years, DSWR research will address data and research gaps around feed production emissions and water quality by measuring how various management practices impact soil health, water quality and GHG emissions under different soil and climate conditions. 

  • The Greener Cattle Initiative (GCI) is a five-year, public-private collaboration to drive new research from experts around the world and provide effective, scalable and commercially feasible solutions to mitigate enteric methane emissions.  

  • On-Farm Assessments — one barrier to farmer adoption of on-farm technologies and practices is access to technical resources and expertise to incentivize sustainable projects and investments. The National Dairy FARM Environmental Stewardship and Newtrient’s Farm-Specific assessments provide dairy farmers with a comprehensive GHG baseline assessment of their farm. With this information, dairy farmers can access more markets and leverage their carbon reduction potential to create long-term sustainability.                                                               

  • The Dairy Scale for Good project (DS4G) seeks to demonstrate how a dairy farm can reach GHG neutrality in an economically viable way, uncovering the extraordinary potential dairy farms hold to provide environmental solutions. The DS4G pilot farms apply the latest research, models and innovations to test and establish best practices and technologies across the farm's environmental footprint. The DS4G project has pilot farms in Florida, California and Washington, each representing a diversity of management styles, geographies and infrastructure, to close the gap between scientific research and on-farm application across the industry. Starbucks and Nestlé are partners of (NZI) and each has invested $10 million over five years to support farmers on their transition to net zero, including on-farm pilot work.          

  • Dairy Feed in Focus is a shared effort to help incentivize and implement best practices in feed and forage production and feed efficiency. Partners for this project — including Syngenta, The Nature Conservancy, Foremost Farms, Michigan Rotary, Nestlé and the Michigan Milk Producers Association — have helped enroll 32 farmers managing 9,889 acres in Wisconsin and Michigan. The ultimate objective is to develop a replicable program and toolset to facilitate the adoption of best management across dairy farms of all sizes throughout the U.S. To achieve these goals, the program provides funding for equipment, infrastructure, supplies and planning, as well as technical assistance, monitoring, reporting and verification.  

As NZI continues to accelerate progress, diverse partnerships and collaboration across both public and private sectors will continue to grow. For more information on these advancements or to be part of this initiative, contact innovationcenter@usdairy.com