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Modern Milk More Green

11 June 2009

US - Dairy genetics, nutrition, herd management and improved animal welfare over the past 60 years have resulted in a modern milk production system that has a smaller carbon footprint than mid-20th century farming practices, says a Cornell University study in the Journal of Animal Science (June 2009).

"As U.S. and global populations continue to increase, it is critical to adopt management practices and technologies to produce sufficient high-quality food from a finite resource supply, while minimizing effects upon the environment," says Jude Capper, lead author and a recent Cornell post-doctoral researcher working with Dale E. Bauman, Cornell Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Animal Science.

The study shows that the carbon footprint for a gallon of milk produced in 2007 was only 37 per cent of that produced in 1944. Improved efficiency has enabled the U.S. dairy industry to produce 186 billion pounds of milk from 9.2 million cows in 2007, compared to only 117 billion pounds of milk from 25.6 million cows in 1944. This has resulted in a 41 percent decrease in the total carbon footprint for U.S. milk production.

Efficiency also resulted in reductions in resource use and waste output. Modern dairy systems only use 10 per cent of the land, 23 per cent of the feedstuffs and 35 per cent of the water required to produce the same amount of milk in 1944. Similarly, 2007 dairy farming produced only 24 per cent of the manure and 43 per cent of the methane output per gallon of milk compared to farming in 1944.

Joining Capper and Bauman on the paper is Roger A. Cady, Cornell '74, MS '77, PH.D. '80, a scientist at Elanco.

Research fund were provided to Bauman as a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor and to the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station. Capper has recently joined the faculty at Washington State University as assistant professor.

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