HomeNewsMoove over, national dairy data: NorthStar to develop county-level footprint models

Moove over, national dairy data: NorthStar to develop county-level footprint models

This piece was adapted from a press release published by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research on Nov. 13, 2019.

Dairy farming is an important component of the overall agricultural economy, however, both feed and milk production also release greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and impact local water bodies. Dairy’s environmental impacts differ locally across the country. Models that combine distribution networks and environmental data can help users of dairy products identify opportunities for achieving sustainability goals. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded World Wildlife Fund a $65,000 grant to develop localized sustainability data for the dairy value chain in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NorthStar). Matching funding was provided by the Walton Family Foundation and the McDonald’s Corporation for a $130,000 total award.

Currently, research models have provided insights into environmental impacts of the dairy industry at the national level. These data may include information about the environmental impacts of feed production, dairy processing and distribution of products. While national datasets are helpful in determining opportunities for improvement, they do not reflect significant regional/geographic differences across the United States. To identify local solutions that improve efficiency and environmental sustainability, information on environmental impacts at a local level are needed.

“Localized environmental data provides dairy stakeholders and companies with information to help them prioritize sustainability solutions,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “In addition, the Food System Supply-chain Sustainability model (FoodS3) allows companies to understand the overlap in supply chains and tackle environmental impacts of dairy production together in prioritized geographic regions.”

World Wildlife Fund and University of Minnesota’s NorthStar are developing a spatial model that links dairy feed, milk and associated environmental impacts at the county-level. To achieve this, researchers are expanding the FoodS3 model, a technology that estimates subnational commodity flows  of crops like corn, wheat and soy, to include dairy production. The model provides an estimated environmental impact of production for each county and enables companies that use dairy inputs to prioritize and focus solutions to reduce their environmental footprint.

“The FoodS3 model will provide opportunities for collaboration across dairy supply chains amongst companies, co-ops, and other stakeholders to reduce GHG emissions and water impacts at scale,” said Ms. Sandra Vijn, the principal investigator of this project. “It will also help map the environmental impacts of dairy feed production, which will support the dairy and wider agricultural community with implementation of solutions to conserve natural resources such as soils, biodiversity and water.”

The Institute on the Environment’s Jennifer Schmitt, who directs the NorthStar Initiative, agrees. “Various companies and organizations have found the FoodS3 model useful for understanding the upstream environmental impacts of their meat products,” she said. “To date, however, we have been unable to provide the same insights for the dairy industry. With this new grant we will be able to include dairy, expanding the relevance of our work.”

This research will allow the dairy industry to develop targeted interventions to reduce environmental impacts across supply chains and milk-producing regions. This project assesses GHG emissions and irrigated water use in US dairy supply chains. Dairy industry stakeholders will be able to use the FoodS3 model, and the published data, to set baselines, prioritize areas for GHG emission and water reduction efforts, and implement solutions.

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About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. Follow FFAR at Facebook and Twitter at @FoundationFAR and @RockTalking.

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