Our Sustainable Future: The Role of Dairy Farmers

by Karen Bakies RD LD FAND

As our society becomes more interested in where our food comes from and how it is produced, a whole new conversation is evolving about food and nutrition.

Specifically, we want to know what steps are being taken to ensure food is being produced sustainably and continues to move forward in a positive direction.

What does this mean for the families producing the food, especially for dairy farmers?

It means Honoring the Harvest. Using food for its highest purpose and moving nutrients through food systems – from people, to animals and then back to the land to grow more food. To continue to feed the global population, which expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, food production must increase by at least 60%.

So, what’s the answer to feeding our growing population? Sustainable diets.

Sustainable diets, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization  are “protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, while optimizing natural and human resources.”

This is a complicated definition. To understand it, the key is not to focus too heavily on just one of these aspects, but instead take a balanced approach.

Let’s break this process down:

Feeding People: Nourishing people to sustain life is the primary purpose of food. Nutrient-rich food needs to be accessible to everyone.

  • While 40% of food made in the U.S. goes uneaten, 1 in 7 Americans turn to Feeding America’s network of food banks to help feed their family. Feeding America works with grocery stores and food companies to rescue as much as possible to get safe and healthy food to those who need it most.

Feeding Animals: Opportunities exist to safely and nutritiously feed animals with foods and plant parts that are inedible for people, which helps the environment.

  • In fact, approximately 80% of what a cow eats cannot be eaten by people. By-products from human food and fiber industries like citrus pulp & cottonseed are converted to milk rather than sent to landfills.

Feeding the Land: Dairy farmers are actively engaged in sustainable farming practices and are always looking for innovative ways to provide the best animal care, and management of their water, manure, and land.

  • Leftover food that people and animals cannot eat may be recycled into natural fertilizer through composting and anaerobic digesters.
  • In the U.S., the dairy community contributes only about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. milk production has the lowest carbon footprint per gallon compared to all other countries with dairy farms.

Recovering Energy: Through innovative technology, like anaerobic digesters, valuable nutrients from food waste and cow manure can be captured and redirected back to the land to fertilize crops or to generate sustainable renewable energy.

Learn more about how Ohio and West Virginia dairy farmers are using sustainable farming practices to protect the land, air, and water for future generations to leave it better than when they received it.

Karen Bakies RD LD FAND

Karen is a registered dietitian and is the Nutrition Affairs Director for the American Dairy Association Mideast. A scientist at heart, she seeks out quality nutrition research to share with others in a profession she is passionate about. Karen is a mother of three and enjoys cooking, gardening, running and traveling.

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