GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Dairy MAX, your local dairy council, partnered with Colorado Livestock Association to host leading experts in sustainability and dairy pricing analysis to expand on issues facing the industry today and its impact on the future. The webinar, “Hedging for a Sustainable Future”, featured Frank Mitloehner, Ph.D., professor and air quality extension specialist at University of California, Davis, and Mark Stephenson, Ph.D., director of dairy policy analysis at University of Wisconsin-Madison. 112 attendees were present, including dairy farmers, producers from other agriculture commodities, industry professionals and members of agriculture media.
“Providing opportunities for farmers to hear from industry experts has always been a priority for dairy checkoff,” said Marty McKinzie, Dairy MAX vice president of industry image and relations. “Although travel restrictions have made it challenging to be together in-person, webinars make it possible for us to continue connecting and providing relevant information.”
The data-driven discussion was pivotal following a year of unforeseen circumstances. While sustainability is not a new practice among dairy farmers, consumer interest in choosing foods produced with care for the environment is on the rise. This consumer trend existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, with 70% of adults making purchase decisions based on sustainability (Hartman, 2019), and continues to be more relevant today.
Mitloehner focused his presentation on the “methane myth” that tends to surface around cattle and the climate change conversation. The average consumer hears about cows producing methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, and draws the conclusion that cattle are the problem – but Mitloehner points out that is not the full story.
What these claims against animal agriculture fail to account for is how methane behaves in the atmosphere. While carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere and sticks around for centuries, methane is produced but also breaks down naturally in the atmosphere. Mitloehner points out this distinct difference in greenhouse gases is crucial to animal agriculture’s narrative, and why livestock emissions cannot be compared to fossil fuels without the appropriate context.
“We can’t let people compare cows to cars – it’s a flawed discussion,” said Mitloehner. “If we have constant cattle herd numbers, we are not adding additional methane and therefore not adding additional warming to our atmosphere.”
According to Mitloehner, advances in the dairy industry to increase productivity with less cows has allowed a significant reduction in carbon footprint.
“With 16 million fewer dairy cows, U.S. milk production has increased 60% and our carbon footprint is two-thirds smaller,” said Mitloehner. “Trends like this are the only way we will meet the challenge of feeding our growing global population by the year 2050.”
Stephenson followed with a presentation on “Pandemic, Prices and PPDs… What Will 2021 Offer?” where he used his background in dairy policy analysis to highlight the ways U.S. markets have moved milk during the pandemic to meet rising consumer demand. Though pandemic-induced shutdowns affected (and continue to affect) foodservice, most consumers returned to the comforts of cooking at home with fluid milk, cheese and butter – causing retail dairy purchases to rise and stay up after the jump at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Dairy markets managed to reconfigure quickly at the beginning of the pandemic to meet heavy demand, and have continued as domestic consumption has stabilized,” said Stephenson.
The webinar concluded with a bright look ahead for the dairy industry in terms of export opportunities and the re-opening of restaurants and schools. Listen to the full presentations and detailed future outlook here.
The dairy industry remains committed to reducing its environmental footprint while ensuring milk and other dairy foods are available to nourish communities. Additional Dairy MAX webinar opportunities will be available throughout 2021 featuring industry experts, partners and checkoff staff.
About Dairy MAX
Founded more than 40 years ago, Dairy MAX is one of the leading regional dairy councils in America – representing more than 900 dairy farmers and serving communities in eight states: Colorado, southwest Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, western Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. A nonprofit organization, Dairy MAX is part of a nationwide effort to support dairy farming and drive impact for every dairy farmer, while promoting American agriculture.
The organization operates five audience outreach programs: business development, consumer marketing, health and wellness, industry image and relations and school marketing. For more information about Dairy MAX and its team of experts, visit DairyMAX.org. Dairy resources and delicious recipes are available at DairyDiscoveryZone.com.