With 278 million dairy cows around the world and approximately 9.3 million of those in the U.S., dairy farms have a huge impact on the environment. In fact, the industry is responsible for 2 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, especially the methane released through cows’ digestive and waste processes. Fortunately, there are several different ways of lessening this impact: feeding cows foods like seaweed so they release less methane; using methane digesters and nutrient recovery technologies to create useful by-products, like bedding, from waste; and incorporating regenerative practices like low-till farming to facilitate carbon capture. Because these are expensive to implement, it is important to flesh out the financial costs and environmental benefits of each for the farmers who are considering them. That is where the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative (NZI)’s Dairy Scale for Good pilot program comes into play; and alongside it, a hefty investment from Nestlé.
NZI was founded in 2020 by organizations in the American dairy field, including the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy (“Innovation Center”), whose Board of Directors includes representation from 65 percent of U.S. milk producers. The initiative is meant to propel the dairy industry toward its 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals: “Become carbon neutral or better; Optimize water use while maximizing recycling; Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients.”
Dairy Scale for Good is NZI’s viability study to test which technologies and practices are most effective and viable for achieving those goals and to advance and scale them for the benefit of dairy farms of “all sizes and geographies,” while simultaneously enabling those farmers to enter new markets and diversify their revenue streams. As Caleb Harper, executive director of Dairy Scale for Good, puts it, “this is about demonstrating improved environmental impacts but it’s also very much about offering an economic return to the dairy farmers…This pilot work reduces the risk of investment so it can be applied to all farms across the U.S. to improve environmental performance and the farmer’s bottom line.”
The pilot program is being implemented on five partner dairy farms, the first of which, Trinkler Dairy Farm, was announced on June 24. That’s where Nestlé comes in. Trinkler Dairy Farm is one of Nestlé’s thirteen dairy suppliers in the Modesto, CA area; it started providing products for the corporation’s CARNATION® brand in 2014. Nestlé’s initial investment of $1.5 million will enable Trinkler, in collaboration with Nestlé and the Innovation Center, to implement the technologies and practices that it hopes will reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2023 and help it reach net zero in five years. The manager of Trinkler, Jon Rebiero, reflected in the press release that “we are embarking on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, building on practices we use today that protect our land, our cows’ welfare and our family business for future generations.” One of the most significant pieces of technology Trinkler plans on using is a biodigester system that will convert cow manure into fertilizer and water to help crop growth; Emily Johannes, Senior Manager of Sustainable Sourcing for Nestlé, told GreenBiz that the system alone will cut down Trinkler’s emissions by 30 percent.
The other four farms in the Dairy Scale for Good pilot are expected to be announced later in the summer, according to the CEO of the Innovation Center, Barbara O’Brien. And in 2022, the scientists at the Innovation Center will analyze the resulting data from all five farms with the aid of science-based measurement tools. The learnings will be shared across the industry, and Nestlé will expand the solutions to other dairy farms. All of this is part of Nestlé’s larger, multi-year partnership with NZI; it became NZI’s first corporate partner in October 2020 with a $10 million total investment. It is also part of Nestlé’s own road to net-zero by 2050, as its dairy operations are responsible for 16 percent of its carbon emissions in the U.S. As Steve Presley, Chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, stated in the press release, “we are using our scale to have a positive impact within our business and supply chain while working to propel the industry forward and create a more sustainable future.”