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  • Writer's pictureTim Heffernan

Dairy Sustainability

Dairy Sustainability is a complex issue with many societal, technical, and market-related components. Sustainability is, by definition, critical to the long term viability of the dairy industry. Some are pushing for the elimination of dairies and while this is a small minority, we have seen some climate-focused investment groups declining to invest in cleaning up dairies, in hopes of eliminating them over the medium or even short term. Developments in synthetic foods have convinced some that this is the future of dairy products.

At least in the short term, the dairy industry needs to become cleaner and move toward greater overall sustainability. The following represent the primary components of Dairy Sustainability:

  1. Animal Welfare - The welfare of dairy cows is essential to dairy sustainability. Cows that are well-cared for are healthier, produce more milk and suffer fewer stress-related illnesses. Comfortable housing, quality feed, clean water, healthy bedding and adequate space all contribute to cow welfare;

  2. Environmental Impact - Modern dairies have a significantly negative environmental impact. Greenhouse gas emissions, objectionable odors, poor air quality and heavy water use, contribute to modern dairies' unfavorable environmental impact. And this factor also impacts cow welfare. Going forward, dairies must reduce their negative environmental consequences if they are to improve sustainability;

  3. Social Responsibility - Like all industries, dairies have a responsibility to ensure its practices don’t negatively impact the social and economic well-being of the local communities. Modern dairies tend to be concentrated in areas near milk processing plants. So this means any negative consequences will be magnified in the local communities. Ensuring fair labor practices, minimizing odors and negative impacts on air quality, and contributing to the local economies are all essential. Transparent supply chains are also important;

  4. Economic Viability - Sustainable dairy production requires that the business can be operated profitably over the long term. Milk prices are set by milk processors and prices can and do vary widely. Likewise input costs for feed, medicine, energy and water also very significantly, both between and within different dairy production centers;

  5. Supply chain sustainability - Dairy sustainability relies on a sustainable and economically viable supply chain. Feed, bedding, energy, water, medicines and veterinary services all represent components of the dairy supply chain. So each of these stakeholders must be committed to long term sustainability. This includes supply chain transparency and traceability.

In future blog posts, I will look at technical and market solutions that I believe can improve dairy sustainability while making the dairy more profitable.



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