10 questions about tech, transparency, and the environmental footprint of milk

Sustainability is becoming an ever-increasing priority across all segments of business, especially in the dairy sector. How does a farm improve the environmental footprint of its milk production?

Dr. Liz Homer
Technical Development Manager and Sustainability Lead
Trouw Nutrition

Assessment is a good place to start. You’ve probably heard it said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. At farm level, there are many different routes (direct and indirect) to take to reduce the environmental impact of milk, such as increasing efficiencies, increasing longevity or changing the diet. MyMilkPrint, a new service developed by Trouw Nutrition, is making it easier to measure interventions that directly reduce the environmental footprint of milk, such as feed and manure management. Below, Dr. Liz Homer, Technical Development Manager and Sustainability Lead at Trouw Nutrition in Great Britain answers questions about MyMilkPrint, including what the innovation means for dairy farmers and feed advisors.

What is MyMilkPrint and how does it work?
MyMilkPrint is an online life cycle assessment (LCA) tool that can help feed advisors calculate the environmental footprint of milk production. With just a few clicks, feed advisors can access updated data and view how different scenarios can influence the environmental footprint of dairy farms. MyMilkPrint makes it easy to conduct a farm assessment, evaluate the impact of different interventions to address issues, generate reports and make formulation decisions influencing the nutrition and economics of the ration.

Can you provide an example of how MyMilkPrint could support sustainability in milk production?
MyMilkPrint can uncover emission hotspots and identify effective alternative approaches to reduce the environmental impact of milk. As an example, a feed advisor might replace a fat or protein source in a ration with a different ingredient having a lower environmental footprint. Such tailored adjustments can add up to significant reductions in the total environmental impact of the feed ration and hence milk. The benefit carries over to consumers in the form of a lower environmental footprint associated with the milk they purchase. Importantly, alternative strategies can address sustainability concerns without reducing milk production or animal performance. More sustainable milk production should not come at the expense of productivity.

What data does my MyMilkPrint use to support recommendations?
Both on-farm data and third-party data are used to generate MyMilkPrint reports and advice. Farm-specific inputs include milk production, on-farm energy use, and farm-grown ingredients. This data is considered in context with data on purchased feeds and nutritional data. Updated data is regularly input into MyMilkPrint and supplied by internationally accepted, widely used, and quality-assured databases.

What information can MyMilkPrint yield?
Feed advisors can use MyMilkPrint to establish a cradle-to-farm gate environmental footprint values for a farm’s milk production. One of these footprint calculations is the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that occur from operating the dairy farm. Additional information provided by MyMilkPrint addresses factors such as on-farm energy utilization, feed procurement and transportation. Looking at emissions that are associated with dairy production, insights can be generated for enteric methane, manure methane and nitrous oxide levels. It has been said that information is power and the MyMilkPrint tool puts the power of data at the feed advisor’s fingertips. Such capabilities allow the environmental impact of milk production to be minimized and overall sustainability to be optimized.

Can you describe some decisions that MyMilkPrint can help inform?
MyMilkPrint capabilities can provide information to assist with formulating the dairy ration and making decisions that affect farm economics. Considering animal nutrition, feed advisers can use the environmental impact assessment values to inform feed formulation decisions and support sustainable practices on the farm.

Why is transparency becoming a bigger issue in milk production?
Consumers are increasingly interested in how their food is produced and that includes the dairy products they purchase, such as milk. Transparency is becoming even more of a concern as plant-based alternative products such as ‘soy milk,” “almond milk” and ‘coconut milk’ have led to consumer confusion about product labeling on non-cow-milk beverages. Additionally, consumers are interested in how dairy production impacts the planet. Verifiable environmental credentials will, therefore, be critical to meeting future market demands, complying with regulations, and boosting the reputation of dairy farming.

What is driving the focus on milk production and the environment?
When we look globally at the levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide and methane, about three-quarters come from the energy sector. However, agriculture and livestock farming also play a noticeable role. And as global initiatives aim to reduce the carbon footprint of farming, current practices are insufficient to allow the dairy industry and individual countries to meet established emission goals. Because methane is a short-lived GHG, there is an opportunity for dairy farms to have a significant cooling effect by reducing methane emissions. Some initiatives that aim to reduce GHGs focus on livestock sectors being climate neutral by a target date.

How do dairy producers benefit from efforts to reduce the environmental effects of dairy farming?
Early adopters of more sustainable production practices can expect to enjoy a competitive advantage from consumers who are willing to pay more for milk that imposes less of an environmental footprint. A recent panel discussion at AgriVision held in the Netherlands in June, discussed an ongoing trend toward consumers’ interest in climate-focused food labels. Transparency can become a key selling point across the value chain, appealing to processors, retailers, and consumers who purchase milk.

How does MyMilkPrint build on other tools to support the environmental sustainability of feed?
In March 2023, Trouw Nutrition introduced MyFeedPrint. Similar to MyMilkPrint, the NutriOpt service provides an online environmental footprint service for animal feed products. The service is designed to help feed producers and integrators measure and quantify the environmental footprint of raw materials and complete feed. Such capabilities provide improved transparency about the environmental impact of the livestock value chain. And they make it possible to continually measure and improve the sustainability of production.

Where is MyMilkPrint available today and will similar products be rolled out for other species?
MyMilkPrint is available via the MyNutriOpt portal and will be rolled out in more countries in the coming months. Tools capable of generating an LCA for other species will be introduced in the future. As participants across the value chain call for more transparency in how food is produced, the ability of farms to provide an accurate assessment of their environmental footprint will become even more important.