The climate crisis has caused many industries around Australia to take a good hard look at their practices and systems of operation, to assess how sustainable they really are. The dairy sector is no exception. All food production has an environmental footprint and with the extended drought and disappearing water supply, it’s become a complicated issue.
The Australian dairy industry is made up of five and a half thousand dairy farmers, producing 8.75 billion litres of milk and they are responding to the challenges of the climate crisis by looking for expert knowledge, help and advice from the scientific community.
The dairy industry hasn’t been perfect in the past, but we’re certainly putting things in place now to try and rectify all those issues. I am a custodian of this land; I hope to pass it onto my son in a better condition than what I got it inChris Griffin, Chair of the Australian Dairy Sustainability Steering Committee
As the Chair of the Australian Dairy Sustainability Steering Committee Chris Griffin says, “It’s in our interests to look after the land and look after the animals – they are our livelihood. If you don’t look after your animals, you may as well not be farming. We need to have a farm that will be here not only for this generation, but for my son and potentially his son as well. Consumers are a lot more discerning now as to where their food is coming from and how it’s produced. The dairy industry hasn’t been perfect in the past, but we’re certainly putting things in place now to try and rectify all those issues. I am a custodian of this land; I hope to pass it onto my son in a better condition than what I got it in.”
The dairy industry is turning to science to help their industry become more productive, and more importantly, more sustainable. Some of the things to be addressed is effluent management (effluent is the waste from the milking shed and yards). Rather than effluent ending up in waterways, farmers are now using this nutrient-rich waste product to give nourishment back to the land.
Land and Biodiversity Team Leader for the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Shayne Haywood says, “We work with farmers to look at the nutrient balance across farms to be able to plan very accurately the right amount of fertiliser required and quite often there is a reduction which means less chance of run-off into waterways, less chance of impact on the Gippsland Lakes for example and ideally some savings for the farmers in terms of their back pocket.”
The dairy industry has recieved some bad press due its to cows emitting methane gas into the atmosphere. Some farmers are aiming to become carbon neutral largely by storing more carbon in the soil. Many are also looking to solar, wind and battery supplied energy to help reduce their carbon footprint.
Sustainability efforts don’t stop at the farm gate. The CSIRO has done research on the effect of people’s diets on climate change and what they’ve found is dairy in Australian diets represents around 10% of the carbon footprint and around 15% of the water footprint, which in other words, means that 90% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from other kinds of foods. They’ve looked at more than 9,000 real Australian diets and what they’ve found differentiates those diets with low emissions and high nutritional quality from those with high emissions and low nutritional quality, is the amount of discretionary foods such as alcohol, confectionery, biscuits and cakes, fried foods and processed meat which contribute to a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. More information on this here: https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/BF/Areas/Nutrition-and-health/Public-health-and-wellbeing/Case-studies/Environmental-impact-of-diets
The processing and packaging sector of the dairy industry is also looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint with some setting their sights on a zero-to-landfill target. In 2018, Lion Dairy and Drinks removed almost 1,000 tonnes of plastic from the manufacturing process through the improved crush mate milk bottle. In 2019 they’ve reduced another 700 tonnes of plastic out of the system and are finding that their new approach is using less energy in a myriad of ways from manufacturing through to freight and transportation and it all adds up.
More information on this here: https://dairysuppliers.lionco.com/news/innovative-and-versatile-crush-mate-bottles/
Many dairy farmers are taking a deep, honest look at the repercussions of their age-old farming methods; making changes after acknowledging the need for new approaches and new learning. Understanding that what is good for the earth is also good for them, their animals and their business.