THE BLOG

Dairy Farmers: The Original Environmentalists

06/14/2013 12:33 EDT | Updated 08/14/2013 05:12 EDT

In any industry, sustainability is important.

On the fiscal side of business, sustainability is vital to ensuring long-term success. On Canadian dairy farms, sustainability helps us provide the safe and quality milk and milk products that our consumers expect. It has also helped farmers continuously improve our livestock's overall health, vigour and well-being.

Pursuing sustainability on the environmental side is the responsible course of action. Farmers love to say they are the first environmentalists. We have good base of strong practices on the farm in regards to environmental protection. Many farmers have environmental farm plans and that's an important aspect. Controlling production to meet demand is also good for the environment.

How?

Over the past several decades, dairy farmers have focused on increasing the production per cow, instead of multiplying the number of cows. Our efforts have paid dividends. Canadian dairy genetics are sought after the world over. We have far fewer cows today than we did 30 years ago, yet we are serving a bigger market. This has resulted in a 20 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from dairy cows over the past 20 years, a significant reduction.

Our farmers are also employing various good practices and we are learning from each other. For the second year, Dairy Farmers of Canada is handing out the Dairy Farm Sustainability Award which recognizes farms with innovative management practices that go beyond industry standards to meet sustainability goals and improve the social, economic and environmental impact of dairy farming of Canada.

This year's finalists, selected for their commitment and innovation, are:

• Sylvain Laquerre & Noëlline Dusablon, Ferme Sylvain Laquerre inc. (St-Casimir, Quebec);

• Marian and Jan Slomp, Rimrose Dairy Ltd. (Rimbey, Alberta); and

• George, Linda and Terry Heinzle, Terryland Farms Inc. (St-Eugène, Ontario).

These leaders are setting an example for other Canadian farmers. We are pleased to be showcasing practices that work and improve the output of their farms while minimizing the impact on the environment.

We are also trying to implement this approach internationally.

In 2009 when I was heading the International Dairy Federation, as part of the international dairy sustainability strategy, we started to publish the Green Paper, which pulls together 500 examples from around that world to illustrate best practices in farming, processing, transporting and wholesale -- including Canadian case studies across the dairy supply chain. It shows what dairy farmers are doing to reduce their impact on the environment and is a great learning tool for others.

The big debate at the international level has been whether to develop an international standard on sustainability for the industry, but we have the added challenge of dealing with extremes: how do you equate a small farm in China with two cows to a 5,000-cow farm in California? We need to ensure international standards are achievable for these extremes.

Sharing successes has been far more effective than strict regulations to pressure practices on farms or throughout the supply chain.

The Green Paper shows the dairy industry worldwide is committed to sustainability and is innovative in the area.

The 2012 Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off