Article Summary: As demand for dairy products continues to grow, sustainability is becoming increasingly important for dairy farmers. By reducing their environmental impact, promoting animal welfare, and supporting their local communities, Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can lead the way in sustainable dairy farming. This blog looks at examples of successful initiatives in other countries to draw inspiration from, plus tips for farmers to promote sustainability in their industries.

Sustainability is a critical issue in farming. As the demand for dairy and beef products continues to grow, farmers need to take steps to reduce their environmental impact, ensure animal welfare, and promote social responsibility. In this blog, we will explore how Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can lead in sustainability, with examples of initiatives from around the world. We also provide tips on being more sustainable in your farming efforts, with some simple tips to improve your dairy operations while caring for the environment.

First of all, let’s look at what both regions have promised.

Dairy industry frameworks in brief

The Australian dairy industry has sustainability commitments via the Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework that strives to:

  • Ensure the best care for all farm animals

  • Reduce environmental impact

  • Provide products that are safe & nutritious, and

  • Promote & create a rewarding livelihood for many Australians.

It has goals and targets set for 2030, which align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals framework. In consultation with global dairy bodies and working groups, it supports continuous improvement and provides a way to measure and report in order to make these changes.

New Zealand has something similar in place via the Dairy NZ Strategy, with five focus areas to create better futures in farming that underpin everything they do:

  1. Increase profit & reduce environmental footprint by 2025 while caring for animals on-farm.

  2. Develop future farm systems & sector-scale solutions.

  3. Build trust & pride in dairy farming.

  4. Build the capability of people on-farm. 

  5. Engage & partner better with levy payers and farmers.

Initiative 1: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming significantly contribute to climate change. Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint by:

  • Improving herd genetics to reduce enteric fermentation and manure-related emissions.

  • Optimising feed management and reducing feed waste to minimise emissions from manure and fertilisers.

  • Incorporating renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Example: The United States' "Dairy Power Project" is a collaborative effort between dairy farmers, government agencies, and the private sector to install anaerobic digesters on dairy farms, which capture methane emissions and convert them into electricity.

Under this renewable energy initiative, dairy farmers can install anaerobic digesters on their farms, which capture methane gas from cow manure and convert it into biogas. This then generates electricity, which farmers can use to power the farm or sell to the local energy grid. By capturing and utilising methane gas, the program helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

In addition to reducing emissions, the "Dairy Power Project" also offers economic benefits to farmers. Farmers can reduce their reliance on the grid and lower their energy bills by producing their own electricity. They can also earn revenue by selling excess electricity back to the grid.

Successful in several states across the United States, many dairy farmers adopted this and other renewable energy technologies to reduce their footprint and increase their energy independence.

Initiative 2: Promoting Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is a crucial component of sustainable dairy farming. Ensuring that cows are healthy and well-cared for promotes their well-being and leads to higher milk quality and productivity. Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can promote animal welfare by:

  • Providing clean and comfortable housing and bedding.

  • Implementing effective disease prevention and management strategies.

  • Ensuring that cows have access to pasture and fresh water.

Example: In Denmark, the "Animal Welfare Label" program certifies farms that meet strict animal welfare standards, including requirements for housing, feed, and health management.

Established in 2010, this voluntary labelling system for meat and dairy products indicates the level of animal welfare standards met during the production process. 

Under the program, producers of meat and dairy products can apply to have their products labelled with a tiered rating system based on the level of animal welfare standards they meet. The label indicates whether the product comes from animals:

  • With access to outdoor areas, 

  • Given the ability to express natural behaviour, 

  • Provided with good living conditions, and 

  • Whom have been handled humanely.

The rating system is divided into three levels:

  • One-star: the animals have been raised according to basic animal welfare standards

  • Two-star: the animals have benefited from above-average conditions and good welfare standards.

  • Three-star: the animals have been raised in the best possible conditions with the highest animal welfare standards.

By providing consumers with clear and transparent information about the animal welfare standards met during production, the "Animal Welfare Label" program aims to encourage producers to improve their animal welfare practices and meet higher standards. It also allows consumers to make more informed choices about the meat and dairy products they purchase and to support producers who prioritise animal welfare.

The "Animal Welfare Label" program has been successful in Denmark, with many producers adopting higher animal welfare standards to achieve higher rating levels. The program has also inspired similar labelling initiatives in other countries as consumers increasingly demand more sustainable and ethically produced food.

Initiative 3: Reducing Water Usage

Water scarcity is a growing concern in many parts of the world, and the dairy industry is no exception. Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can reduce their water usage by:

  • Implementing efficient irrigation systems to reduce water waste.

  • Reusing wastewater for cleaning and irrigation.

  • Adopting water-saving technologies, such as low-flow nozzles and automated watering systems.

Example: In the Netherlands, the "Sustainable Dairy Chain" program encourages farmers to adopt water-saving measures, such as recycling water for irrigation and using sensors to monitor water use.

The program is a collaboration between dairy farmers, dairy companies, and other stakeholders in the dairy chain to promote sustainable dairy farming practices. One of the key areas of focus is water conservation, with the program encouraging farmers to adopt a range of measures to reduce water usage and promote efficient water management. Some of the specific water-saving measures recommended by the program include:

  • Recycling wastewater for cleaning and irrigation

  • Implementing efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation or soil moisture sensors, to reduce water waste

  • Using low-flow nozzles and automated watering systems to conserve water

  • Monitoring water use to identify areas where water conservation can be improved

These seem like big initiatives, but for the dairy industry as a whole, they’re vital to consider and implement. If you want to do your bit, there are ways you can implement simple sustainability measures at ground level on your farm to preserve the environment for future generations.

Simple sustainability measures you can adopt on your dairy farm

Below are examples of some of the sustainability practices being used on dairy farms to deliver these commitments:

  • Adding solar panels to your dairy sheds to reduce your farm’s carbon footprint

  • Recycling water from dairy sheds and using it to water pastures and clean out dairy sheds

  • Fencing off waterways to keep out residue and improve water quality

  • Implementing cooling facilities or providing shade options for cows in warm climates

  • Planting more trees on your property to counter your farm’s carbon footprint

  • Allocating and protecting a portion of your land for conservation and biodiversity

  • Capturing effluent (liquid waste) for reusing as liquid fertiliser and compost to improve your pastures.

  • Implementing an automated farm management tool to track your farm’s performance and make the most of your resources. 

As demand for dairy products continues to grow, sustainability is becoming increasingly important for dairy farmers. By reducing their environmental impact, promoting animal welfare, and supporting their local communities, Australian and New Zealand dairy farmers can lead the way in sustainable dairy farming. With initiatives from around the world to draw inspiration from, there are many opportunities for the Australian and NZ dairy industries and farmers to promote sustainability in their industries.

Until we meet again, Happy Farming!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2023-02-14