Net Zero Initiative Builds Momentum with New Partnership Featuring Improved Cow Feed

Net Zero Initiative Builds Momentum with New Partnership Featuring Improved Cow Feed

The partnership will reduce the U.S. dairy industry’s global environmental footprint with help from Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy. 

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy have created a new partnership that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving the production and efficiency of dairy cow feed. 

The new partnership is another step forward for the U.S. Net Zero Initiative (NZI), a comprehensive program launched in 2020 that includes research, practices and partner-based strategies to support dairy’s progress toward 2050 environmental stewardship goals set by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. 

NZI seeks to accelerate voluntary action to reduce environmental impacts by making sustainable practices and technologies more accessible and affordable to U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies.

Scaled approach 

The partnership was announced last week by USDEC President and CEO Krysta Harden, a board member for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The partnership plan is to launch a new, three-party program in one or two states later this year and to scale and expand to other geographies across the U.S. over the next three years. 

USDEC, a pro-trade membership organization, has seen over the years an increasing expectation by global dairy customers to do business with suppliers who are proactively and systematically reducing their global carbon footprints.

The partnership includes opportunities to incorporate hybrid feeds that can improve the digestibility of starch in cattle feed. From a lifecycle analysis perspective, the potential environmental savings and benefits from increased feed efficiency are significant for climate-impacting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land, water and energy use. 

“This is something we’ve been talking about for months and months,” said Harden during a panel at the Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit last Tuesday that focused on the partnership. “As we went through COVID, we had some delays, but we are now coming together to get at these problems and help find solutions.” 

This initiative will not only help farmers increase productivity, but also will support progress toward the U.S. dairy industry’s sustainability goal to collectively achieve net zero methane emissions.

NZI’s four key areas of focus

By expanding science-based research and data collection, NZI closes knowledge gaps, improves analysis and advances practices and technologies that reduce environmental impact in four key areas of dairy production: feed production, cow care, energy efficiency and manure management.

Many technologies and practices are in place to reduce on-farm environmental impacts and some already are widely used. NZI looks to break down barriers to accelerate more widespread adoption, such as addressing the economic viability of technology and practices.

This can be achieved by realizing the untapped on-farm value of sequestering carbon, converting manure and waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer, renewable energy and other valuable products, and contributing to ecosystem markets. 

New feed reduces emissions 

Appearing on the Agri-Pulse panel with Harden, Syngenta Group CEO Erik Fyrwald explained how Syngenta would provide a product called Enogen, developed initially for the ethanol industry. 

Syngenta learned that Enogen had positive results for cows by being more digestible, enabling them to produce more milk — while also reducing their methane emissions. That’s a winning combination. 

Farmers who choose to be in the program will be offered a “menu” of other practices, including cover crops and reduced tillage.

“This effort is good for the productivity of dairy but also for greenhouse gas emission reductions,” said Fyrwald. “It’s just great to see dairy farmers working with us on sustainability because we’ve got a great story to tell here.”

Win-win solutions

Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer at The Nature Conservancy, also stressed the importance of dairy farmers.

“Bringing all these voices together to work with dairy farmers is so critical to make sure we are good for people, good for the planet and good for community,” said Scarlett. “I want to add a fourth dimension — good for economic opportunity.”

Harden explained how the partnership will help U.S. dairy exporters. 

“The questions that come up more and more all the time are about our footprint … our commitment to sustainability,” said Harden. “Customers are asking those questions about the U.S. milk supply.”

“We want to be that supplier of choice around the globe. We know that we can compete at that level, but we’re going to have to be ready to answer the sustainability questions,” said Harden. “This kind of work gives us a way to define ourselves as the U.S. dairy industry. It lets us say what is important to us and our dairy farmers instead of someone else doing it for us.”

About the partners

The new partnership brings together three organizations with complementary missions: 

  • Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® is a forum that brings together the dairy community to address the changing needs and expectations of consumers through a framework of shared best practices and accountability. Initiated in 2008 by dairy farmers through the dairy checkoff, we collaborate on efforts that are important both to us and our valued customers – issues like animal care, food safety, nutrition and health, the environment and community contributions. The Innovation Center is committed to continuous improvement from farm to table, striving to ensure a socially responsible and economically viable dairy community. Visit com for more information about the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. 
  • Syngenta uses ground-breaking innovation and science to protect crops and improve seeds. The company supports farmers with technologies, knowledge, and services to sustainably provide the world with better food and feed. 
  • The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization with more than 400 scientists to help farmers adopt and test cutting-edge, science-based management practices that contribute to land and water stewardship.

Written by Mark O’Keefe; U.S. Dairy Export Council

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