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[October 09, 2008]
URBANA -- Improved efficiency in the production
of milk has resulted in a huge reduction in the dairy industry's
carbon footprint, making it very "green," said a University of
Illinois Extension dairy specialist.
"Using 1944 as the base year of comparison -- and also the year
of the largest number of dairy cows in the United States, the number
of dairy cows has dropped from 25.6 million to 9.2 million cows
while milk production has increased from 117 billion pounds to 186
billion pounds," said Mike Hutjens.
"Using pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of milk as the carbon
footprint value, the dairy industry's footprint has dropped from
31 pounds in 1944 to 12 pounds per gallon in 2007."
cattle's environmental impact continues in the news as global
warming concerns are raised due to methane production and carbon
dioxide relationships involved in the industry, he said.
"Dairy cows produce methane when digesting feed in the rumen.
Methane has 25 times the impact of carbon dioxide," he said.
"While a wide range of claims have been made, 6 percent of the
total carbon footprint is from agriculture, with dairy
responsible for 11 percent of the total 6 percent, or 0.7
percent of the total."
Earlier this year, the National Academy of Science published
a paper that addressed the improvement of milk production
efficiency and the impact of organic dairy production compared
with conventional production.
"The paper showed that if 1 million of the total 9 million
U.S. dairy cows produced 10 pounds more milk per day due to the
adoption of technology, a number of positive impacts could be
expected," said Hutjens.
"It would reduce by 157,000 the number of cows needed to
produce the same level of milk. It would reduce by 219,000
hectares the land needed for feed production. It would reduce
the emission of methane by 41 million kilograms annually. And it
would reduce manure excretion by 2.8 million tons each year."
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Switching to organic milk production would require 25 percent more
cows than now used, 30 percent more land for feed production, 39
percent more nitrogen excretion and a 13 percent increase in global
What does this mean to consumers?
"For consumers, it means a careful analysis is required to
determine if carbon footprint and global warming applications are
more important than denying technology applications, especially when
that technology does not change nutrient content of food or impact
animal health," he said.
"For dairy managers, increasing milk production efficiency will
reduce carbon footprint, improve nitrogen efficiency and reduce
global warming. Dairy managers who do this are increasingly more
The bottom line, Hutjens said, is that when it comes to the
environment, using fewer resources to produce more food will improve
the carbon footprint.
[Text from file received from