Dairy industry receives $1.1 million from USDA to help farmers measure and communicate stewardship

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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a $1.1 million Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to the Dairy Research Institute™ (formerly known as Dairy Science Institute, Inc.), an affiliate of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®. The funding will support the development of a Dairy Farm Stewardship Toolkit for dairy farmers to evaluate their production techniques and identify potential improvements in management practices. Once implemented, the toolkit also can be used to help farmers communicate positive contributions their businesses have made to the local community.

'Just as we have seen in the area of nutrition, consumers, retailers and others are increasingly assessing the sustainability of products, companies and industries,' said Barbara O'Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. 'By establishing benchmarks and assessing specific on-farm practices, farmers will be able to better understand the efficiency of their overall operations as well as opportunities for improvement. And that is not only good for business, but also good for the environment, for consumers and for communities.'

The grant, awarded through a nationwide competitive process, is made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The first stage in developing the toolkit will be to establish a set of on-farm sustainability indicators that will be pilot-tested on farms. A broad group of stakeholders from the dairy industry and other experts will determine which indicators best describe the quality and quantity of economic, social and environmental value provided by farms. Indicators could include, for example: a farm's contribution to the local community through jobs and community relations; energy efficiency; food safety and quality; water quality and use; waste management; and greenhouse gas emissions.

When completed, the toolkit will enable farmers to generate an analysis of their stewardship practices and help them tell their stewardship story in a way that will be easily understood and valued by communities and customers.

The U.S. dairy industry is developing best practices and decision-support tools for farmers, processors, manufacturers, transport and retail through a voluntary, industrywide effort to measure and improve dairy sustainability. The toolkit is an important first component of the Farm Smart project, which is creating a series of on-field decision-support tools for dairy and crop production management.

'As dairy farmers, we have long been committed to stewardship, but have not had a science-based tool to identify and measure practices that reduce costs and environmental impact,' said Bob Foster, owner, Foster Brothers Farm, Middlebury, Vt. 'This grant will help take the industry’s heritage of dairy stewardship to a new business level.'

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® provides a forum for the dairy industry to work together pre-competitively to address barriers and opportunities to foster innovation and increase sales. The Innovation Center aligns the collective resources of the industry to offer consumers nutritious dairy products and ingredients, and promote the health of people, communities, the planet and the industry. The Innovation Center was established in 2008 under the leadership of America's dairy farmers through Dairy Management Inc.™, a nonprofit organization. The board of directors includes 32 leaders from 30 key U.S. producer organizations, dairy cooperatives, processors, manufacturers and brands. Visit www.USDairy.com for more information about the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dairy Research Institute™ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization affiliated with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® and was created to strengthen the dairy industry’s access to and investment in the technical research required to drive innovation and demand for dairy products and ingredients, globally. The Institute works with and through industry, academic, government and commercial partners to drive pre-competitive research in nutrition, products and sustainability on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and National Dairy Council®.

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