When the Net Zero Initiative was announced in 2020 as a commitment for dairy production to be carbon neutral by 2050 while optimizing water usage and quality, farmers may have been asking themselves the same question that Marilyn Hershey said she’s heard from producers: Are we putting the cart before the horse?

“You know what, we did. We know we don’t have all the answers in how we’re going to get there,” said Hershey, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer and board chair for Dairy Management Inc., on the July 21 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream.

“But it’s very important that we come out with that commitment because, in coming out with it ourselves, we’re in charge of the narrative,” she continued. “We’re in charge of the conversation.”

Of course, as dairy processors and customers aim to have more stake in how their food is produced, the sustainability conversation is not going to go away. If not driven by the producers, it will be driven by the consumers. Thus far, producers have had a say in this conversation, Hershey highlighted.

“We have farmers at the table who are helping to make this decision,” she emphasized. “There’s nothing that is not debated and discussed very strongly when we look at the board of directors.”

Economic opportunity

At the same time that farmers need a voice at the table, climate and sustainability goals cannot come on the backs of farmers. The methods must make sense and be profitable.

“As a farmer myself, I don’t want something coming down the pipe that’s going to cost me more money. But we also know that there’s opportunity there,” Hershey said of existing and evolving environmental markets.

Her own farm uses an anaerobic digester to process their manure, creating recycled bedding for the cows as well as electricity that is sold to the Philadelphia Electric Company. But she also emphasized that solutions must exist for every size and type of farm. While a digester might not be feasible for everyone, other manure products, carbon credits, or technologies that have yet to be developed can help turn practices farmers have been using for decades into additional revenue.

That’s the mission of Newtrient, a company formed five years ago from 12 dairy co-ops and checkoff organizations. Jamie Vander Molen, vice president of sustainability initiatives and outreach, explained that they want to help farmers reduce their environmental impact, but in the most economically viable way possible. There is no one solution that will work for every farm, she noted. Read more about the revenue opportunities Newtrient is following in the article, “Can we make sustainability a market?

To watch the recording of the July 21 DairyLivestream, go to the link above. The program recording is also available as an audio-only podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and downloadable from the Hoard’s Dairyman website.

An ongoing series of events

The next broadcast of DairyLivestream will be on Wednesday, August 4 at 11 a.m. CDT. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here for free. Registering once registers you for all future events.

To comment, email your remarks to intel@hoards.com.
(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
July 26, 2021
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