When it comes to the sustainable production of dairy — whether it’s on the farm or in the processing plant — our industry has long been a leader. 

Continued progress is deeply rooted in our journey, and we are gaining support from some world-renowned companies that value what we do to be sustainable. How foods are produced has taken on increased emphasis with consumers, and for some, the production story might carry more weight than the nutrition benefits.

That’s why it’s significant that checkoff-led efforts through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy last year helped secure collaborations worth up to $10 million over five years with both Nestlé and Starbucks. The funding will support research, on-farm pilots, and efforts to increase voluntary adoption of environmental practices and technologies across all farms through the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative.

Recent efforts in sustainability 

It was rewarding to hear comments from Kelly Bengston, senior vice president, and chief procurement officer at Starbucks, who announced the company’s pilot work with a Florida dairy farm during last fall’s Sustainable Agriculture Summit. Bengston underscored the importance of working with dairy and for good reason: Dairy is a part of more than half of the company’s core beverage offerings. So Starbucks, too, is thinking about the holistic approach. 

“At Starbucks, we are focused on driving innovation at scale to support people and planet,” Bengston told the audience. “This includes not only identifying new ideas and technologies with our partners that are meaningful to farmers, but also doing the work on the ground to help apply them on their farms.”

But that was far from the only good news in 2021. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) provided a $10 million grant to support the Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration project to perform feed production research over the next six years. 

Also announced was the Greener Cattle Initiative, a program developed with FFAR and eight partners to provide $5 million over five years to fund research on enteric methane mitigation from cattle — an area of increased interest with thought leaders and consumers.

Finally, the Nature Conservancy, a leading global conservation organization, wants to help farmers adopt and test cutting-edge, science-based management practices in feed/forage production and feed efficiency. The organization is partnering with the Innovation Center and Syngenta with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality, and strengthening farm resilience. 

While dairy’s sustainability foundation is solid, commitments such as these and others that will follow make the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality, optimize water usage, and improve water quality more achievable. 

And that will deliver even more reasons for people to believe in dairy’s nutritional and environmental value.

Gregory D. Miller, Ph.D., is global chief science officer for National Dairy Council.