Ooof this one hurt.
I subscribe to the New York Times Climate Forward Newsletter and also their Daily Email Newsletter. I love them, I learn a lot, and it’s a great addition to my day.
On Wednesday afternoon I was scrambling to catch up on emails before feeding the calves and into my inbox popped:
Climate Fwd: Meat is a big climate issue. What about dairy?
My heart sunk and I stopped what I was doing to read the post. Of course it reads what you’d expect by the title: that dairy is an “emissions-intensive food…according to one study.”
There’s no denying that agriculture is a big emitter of greenhouse gases; dairy included.
On our farm and others, emissions are coming from crop cultivation and soil management, enteric fermentation (cow farts), fuel usage, and other daily operations. Emissions are also, of course, coming from processing and transportation. It’s a problem, we know, I’m not hiding from it.
According to the EPA 9% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. And according to a study by the University of Arkansas, dairy accounts for just 2%.
Compare that to the 28.5% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation and the 28.4% from Electricity.
But back to cows, their farts, and their farmers. What do we do?
As of 2007, producing a gallon of milk uses 90% less land and 65% less water, with a 63% smaller carbon footprint than in 1944. This is attributed to better equipment, good genes, animal comfort, superior herd nutrition, and excellent care.
U.S. dairy farms are producing higher quantity, better quality milk with fewer cows and fewer resources.
Here at Barstow’s Longview Farm, we offset our carbon hoof print by 85% with an anaerobic digester that takes the methane from manure and turns it into renewable electricity. We use less synthetic fertilizer on our land by spreading the chemical free, organic fertilizer from the digestion process. Coupled with practices like no-till farming and data driven animal care, we are actively working to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions every day.
It saves us money, it ensures a better future for our land and family, and it builds support in our community.
Currently the United States dairy industry is in peril. Low milk prices and sky high grain bills mean that the product we produce doesn’t even come close to covering the cost of business. Farmers are receiving about 30% less in their paychecks than they need to break even.
I wrote a blog post about the dairy crisis back in August 2018; what it means, why it matters, and how you can help. You can find it here.
And like any crisis, it hits the little guys first. Massachusetts started 2018 with 134 family owned and operated dairy farms. We’re down to 117. In New York state, 1,600 family dairies went out of business between 2006 and 2016, with dozens more closing since.
The part of the New York Times article that was a twisting knife to the heart? The author offered a source, Cynthia Sass, who encouraged alternative-“milks” to replace your use of REAL milk.
The nutritionally nonequivalent, overly processed fake milk being paraded as equal to natures most amazing food, milk?
It’s like a muddy boot to the face while we are already down.
The article continues that cutting out milk is like “low-hanging fruit” for people trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Good to know the author viewed the decimation of farmer financial well-being, resiliency of rural America, and legacy of multi-generational dairy farms as “baby steps.”
It’s 2019. We rarely discuss clothing consumption without bringing up child laborers in Asia, or tossing food from the fridge without mentioning starving families in Africa.
Dairy farms produce safe, nutritious food for our communities, contribute to the rural economies of our nation, protect open space, ground water, and habitat, and preserve local agricultural heritage.
It’s all more connected and more complicated than we think.
As someone on the inside of this industry, this New York Times piece read as an advertisement for the alternative milk corporations and a real slap in the face for the family farmer.
The New York Times is welcome to come visit my family’s 213 year old dairy farm anytime. We want people to see what we are doing, learn about farm sustainability, and talk about the full story of food production, from emissions to nutrition.