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Today's dairy farms use less land, feed and water

The dairy industry has reduced its carbon footprint over the past 60 years by improving dairy genetics, nutrition, herd management and animal welfare, reports a new Cornell study.

The research, published in the June issue of the Journal of Animal Science (87:6), shows that the carbon footprint for a gallon of milk produced in 2007 was only 37 percent of that produced in 1944. The total carbon footprint for U.S. milk production has fallen 41 percent, according to the study.

"As U.S. and global populations continue to increase, it is critical to adopt management practices and technologies to produce sufficient high-quality food from a finite resource supply, while minimizing effects upon the environment," says Jude Capper, lead author and a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher working with Dale E. Bauman, Cornell Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Animal Science.

The study, "The Environmental Impact of Dairy Production: 1944 compared with 2007," reports that the improved efficiency has enabled the U.S. dairy industry to produce 186 billion pounds of milk from 9.2 million cows in 2007, compared with only 117 billion pounds of milk from 25.6 million cows in 1944.

Efficiency also resulted in reductions in resource use and waste output. Modern dairy systems only use 10 percent of the land, 23 percent of the feedstuffs and 35 percent of the water required to produce the same amount of milk in 1944. Similarly, 2007 dairy farming produced only 24 percent of the manure and 43 percent of the methane output per gallon of milk compared to farming in 1944.

Joining Capper and Bauman on the paper is Roger A. Cady, B.S. '74, M.S. '77, Ph.D. '80, a scientist at Elanco.

The study was supported in part by funds to Bauman as a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor and from the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station. Capper has recently joined the faculty at Washington State University as assistant professor.

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