There are no financial incentives and the adoption of practices isn’t mandatory to continue shipping milk, but Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) insists there are strong reasons why the country’s milk producers should get on board with a just-published Best Management Practices Guide to Mitigate Emissions on Dairy Farms.
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The new document forms the cornerstone of the farmer-governed national organization’s Net Zero by 2050 strategy, announced last year with the aim of bringing the dairy sec- tor into compliance with the federal government’s climate change action goals.
Why it matters: Farmers aiming to decrease their fossil fuel footprints want to be assured the measures they undertake will have meaningful results.
DFC contracted Viresco Solutions to assess options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in dairy and make recommendations about how they can be implemented on farms.
“I call it an ideas book,” said the DFC board member representing Lactanet, Wellington County dairy producer Korb Whale. He added that, on the day of the document’s release on March 20, dairy sector representatives were in Ottawa for a federal government lobby day and Agriculture and Agri-food Can- ada Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau suggested to Whale she might use it as a template to take to other agricultural sectors as an example of how to approach climate change goals.
“They’re excited about this manual,” Whale said.
The Best Management Practices Guide’s content was recommended by a Farmer Sustainability Advisory Group put together by the organization through an application process, DFC Sustainability Lead Fawn Jackson told a recent dairy sector meeting. Whale is a member of that committee, and is featured in the new Guide offering a testimonial about the sustainability bene- fits of his family’s decision in 2009 to construct a biodigester-based electricity generator.
“We have a 250-kW contract with a local hydro company and use about one-fifth of the energy we produce to power our farm, as well as a portion of the heat generated from the digester,” Whale says in his testimonial. “We noticed an increased fertilizer value from the digestate that comes out the back end – almost a 15 per cent increase in crop yield by year three. Researchers from the University of Guelph monitored our methane levels before, during, and for a few years after construction, and we were able to take out 90-97 per cent of the emissions from our manure storage pit.”
Best management practices
In the guide, BMPs are organized into four categories aimed at carbon emissions: Livestock Management, Feed Production, Manure Management, and Energy/Infrastructure/ Transportation. A fifth category entitled Land Management is also included to tackle carbon sequestration and “biodiversity enhancement.” Measures undertaken in this category, the document states, “may have a smaller emissions mitigation potential (but) provide important environmental benefits that help farms to be more resilient and adapt to the effects of climate change, like severe temperatures, wildfires, drought and flooding.”
Each BMP is ranked as high, medium or low for on-farm emission mitigation and estimated return on investment. Each practice’s potential impact is also noted for carbon sequestration, resiliency to climate change, production efficiency, soil health and biodiversity.
“It’s a fairly well-researched guide,” said Whale. He noted DFC announced the “what” last year with its Net Zero 2050 goal and the new document effectively answers the “how” questions that he heard from producers following the June 2022 announcement – “What do you want from us? And how are you going to measure it?”
Members of the farmer advisory committee received training recently to help them act as ambassadors for the program. Whale expects there will be additional training to allow farmers who have undertaken BMPs in the guide to speak to those particular measures. And by the end of the year, he hopes there will also be “kitchen table meetings” at farms across the country to share information about meeting the Net Zero goal.
“(Required)” indicates required fields
Asked about fossil fuel use associated with dairy production that falls outside the control of farmers – such as transportation from farm to processing plant – Whale said the BMP guide only tackles “the chunks (of dairy’s carbon footprint) that we can control.” He added, however, that approximately 70 per cent of dairy production’s footprint comes from the farm, with the largest contributor being the cow itself.
“The rest of our supply chain, they need to do better too,” Whale commented. “And they’re working on it.”