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Of Cows and Climate

CALS researchers are leading a far-reaching effort to gather information about greenhouse gases related to dairy—and to give farmers and other industry professionals the tools they need to reduce them.

Dairy, as noted, accounts for only 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s clear that getting reductions will be a challenge. It’s easy to look at that math and get discouraged. Therein lies the ultimate challenge of climate change.

“We know that developing modern solutions to a changing climate requires a doubling down on collaboration—between farmers, governments, researchers and industry,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said last year, soon after announcing the Dairy CAP grant. “We have got to think outside the box, work together and pool our resources to begin developing the next generation of climate solutions for agriculture. This is not a single, one-size-fits-all problem. We need a targeted approach geared to the particular challenge faced by each region.”

Over at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Erin Fitzgerald is upbeat about the challenge. “I really come at it from a business perspective. I’ll talk a lot about adaptation, preparedness, risk mitigation, long-range planning, looking for efficiencies,” she says. “I haven’t found a farmer who doesn’t understand it at a more granular definition.”

And if there is an underlying strength to Dairy CAP, it’s the buy-in from the dairy industry—its realization that not only was climate change a threat to business, it also was part of the problem, and thus part of the solution.

“If we can get the information in the hands of the people who are using it, we think that is what’s going to drive incremental improvement,” says Fitzgerald. “Stewardship, to me, is a value, it’s something that we aspire to. Sustainability is about making it work in your business model.”