Episode 24 – How Dairy Sustainability Became A Priority For Dairy Farmers And The Dairy Checkoff

Sustainability is a term that gets used often in food marketing, by politicians and thought leaders but what does it really mean to dairy farmers and the dairy checkoff. Listen as Georgia dairy farmer Adam Graft has a conversation with former National Dairy Board member and California dairy farmer Steve Maddox and Stephanie Masiello Schuette, Director of Environment Research for Dairy Management Inc., about why it’s important for the dairy farmers to be involved in sustainability practices as well as how the checkoff is helping with dairy farming sustainability practices and measurement. They will also discuss the future of dairy sustainability and current research projects. Tune in to find out!

To learn more about the national dairy checkoff and your local dairy checkoffs, please visit www.usdairy.com.

Dairy Farmer Hosts:

·     Farmer Host: Adam Graft

Dairy Farmer Guests:

·     Farmer Guest: Steve Maddox, CA dairy farmer and former National Dairy Board member

·     Farmer Guest: Stephanie Masiello Schuette, Director of Environmental Research for Dairy Management Inc.

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Summary (Machine-generated)

  • How checkoff got involved in dairy sustainability. 0:00
  • Steve Maddox’s previous role at Dmi as a board member. (1:31)
  • Sustainability in the dairy industry. (4:42)
  • What role does sustainability play in the export markets? (8:18)
  • Why is it important to research dairy? (11:16)
  • Investing in the dairy industry. (12:41)
  • The Green Cattle Initiative. (15:34)
  • The role of science in short and long term sustainability. (18:11)
  • What to take away from this episode? (20:38)

Transcript (Machine-generated)

Adam Graft  0:00 

So what are some wins? And

Steve Maddox  0:01 

what are some challenges that we face original challenges was just to measure where we had been and what you know, give us credit for what we’re already doing. And so, you know, we came up with, you know, that that we reduced greenhouse gases by over 60% Since 1944 through 2007. And then, but in addition, since then, we’ve also decreased almost another 20% per gallon of milk produced. And so the accurate measurements nationwide is very important. And we know we’re getting pushback from from some of the anti animal agriculture groups because they’re starting to attack the researchers that in their funding, so So there must be some truth in that.

Adam Graft  0:57 

Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of your Dairy Checkoff podcast we will be talking with Steve Maddix, former board member and California dairy farmer and Stephanie Messick ello shooty, Director of Environmental Research, dairy management Incorporated, about why it’s important for the dairy farmers to be involved in sustainability practices and how the checkoff is helping with sustainability practices and measurement. They will also discuss the future of dairy sustainability and current research projects. Stephanie, tell us about your role in dairy management corporated.

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  1:31 

Sure. Thanks, Adam. So here at DMI as you mentioned, I’m a Director of Environmental Research. I am part of the environmental research team. And what that means is I’m really doing work along with the rest of my colleagues that enable the advancement of science so that dairy farmers can really address those environmental challenges they’re facing. Right, Steve,

Adam Graft  1:54 

tell us about your previous role as a board member really,

Steve Maddox  1:57 

really, I come about it naturally because my father was one of the few dairyman that actually had a close degree in the 50s. And so we always had a farm advisor, or other people doing a lot of early dairy research. So it was a natural for us to follow up on it. As a board member, actually, I was part of our co op board that helped set up California dairy cares, which is dairy conservation, responsible environmental stewardship group to combat some state legislative moves, that were anti science attacking the dairy industry, on their water use and air emissions, trying to fulfill their perceived environmental activism. So when we 13 years ago, when we had Walmart and Costco and a bunch of the other Indians foods, pushing for environmental fixes from the International perception that the dairy industry was causing anywhere from 10% to 40%, of the greenhouse emissions, we knew we had to do something to protect our market, protect our social licence to operate. And eventually it came up to around 17. Little over 17% was the worldwide emissions accounted to the to cattle? Obviously, that’s much lower in the United States. And that’s something that from our our efforts and our bringing true science and versus political opinion. We’ve been able to change that but the original sustainability, national meetings was at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, back about 13 years ago.

Adam Graft  3:47 

Tell me a little bit about your history with sustainability and the checkoff? Why did the checkoff get involved in sustainability? What was happening at the time,

Steve Maddox  3:56 

we are having pushback from a lot of our customers and end users, not customers as much as the purchasers of our dairy products to to combat the activism that was claiming falsely some of our impacts on the environment from you from dairy cattle and beef cattle in the light animal agriculture in general. And we knew that we had we had numbers that that different from what they were putting out in the press, but we didn’t necessarily have new science or confirming science to back that up. You know, what you’re fighting is you’re fighting basically claims that people design in a closed room and say five times they they claim it as fact. We’re as part of agriculture, we have to come out with a scientifically peer reviewed fact. And we can’t defer for wrap because if we have one misstatement, then we’re hanging, you know, that’s hung around our necks. But so we had to come out with that and come together on it. And it’s one of those either way hang together to fight. This is narrative, or else we hang separately. So

Adam Graft  5:22 

right, that’s a great way to put it. What was the conversation around this topic, when the board made initial decisions around sustainability, we

Steve Maddox  5:29 

had a certain amount of pushback, because in the past, we’ve had, the buyers of our products want us to do things and without compensation, and the number one thing and sustainability is profitability, survive, you know, not just surviving, but making a bottom line profit. And, in we had bad history in the past, through the biotech push in the late 80s, and early 90s, and the like, and so we had that, an unfunded mandate, worry about it. And, but really, once we convinced dairy farmers that that the practices and the things that we’re going to go in to try to follow up on had a positive bottom line impact, then it was a little easier to sell. The other thing was that, you know, some of our dairy plants have got two or 300 inspections per year, and we want to be as little reduced the inclusiveness of those inspections. So we again, having having kind of a national aspect of it was very important. The other problem we have in the industry is that we have anywhere from Organic Dairy Farm Organic farmers to large conventional farms, and, and we had to take a menu approach to the measurements and following up on what was good. And honestly, the strength of the industry is the small farmer. Right.

Adam Graft  7:05 

So beyond the farmer board, were other farmers involved in this decision, and if so, how were they involved?

Steve Maddox  7:10 

You know, obviously, the basic funding and overhead is covered by our national Promotion Board. And they carried the water on that. But we went to different states, different regions, land grant universities and in the like and with recommendations of people that were leading the field in different states, different regions in sustainability and environmental practices in animal care, and reached out to them and got them involved on a sustainability Task Force and the Sustainability Council.

Adam Graft  7:48 

So I know the checkoff work to convene others around this topic and work to create a true industry wide approach. Why is it important that the dairy industry be united with one voice and approach when communicating with consumers and customers around sustainability?

Steve Maddox  8:03 

If I go back to the biotech push would be SDN, and the like, you had a certain amount of naysayers within the industry that were going beyond that, beyond the the actual science of it. And I’m not saying it was all good or bad. It was just that that diversity of opinion was left on by the anti animal agriculture groups and basically condemned some positive biotech products that would actually enhance our sustainability drive. And, and going without, we do follow up with the you know, follow up that with learning that lesson, and try not to duplicate it, and you got to live through it to understand how tough it is, but what role

Adam Graft  8:54 

does sustainability you know, what does it play in the export markets for us products of different regions

Steve Maddox  9:03 

of the world, it takes on different aspects, you know, the European common European Union is always used the environment or animal care as trade barriers. And in with a farm program that we’ve proposed out. That’s handled by overnight, you know, that’s been adopted and signed up, over 90% of the dairy farmers across the United States is a great program. However, Europe was trying to come up with a narrative that it was not it was it was not as good as their own program until we have an ISO certified once we had an ISO certified. It was the not the gold standard, but the platinum standard. And we prevented that from being a trade barrier used by Europe. The 17% greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture actually is somewhere around 4% For you United States and actually Darius around 2%. Of that. And, but that’s because of our advanced practices.

Adam Graft  10:08 

So in the more than 10 years since the sustainability initiative was determined, what progress has been made. So what are some wins? And what are some challenges that we face

Steve Maddox  10:18 

original challenges was just a measure where we had been and what you know, give us credit for what we’re already doing. And so, you know, we came up with, you know, that, that we’ve reduced greenhouse gases by over 60%, since 1944, through 2007. And then, but in addition, since then, we’ve also decreased at almost another 20% per gallon of milk produced. And so the accurate measurements nationwide is very important. And we know we’re getting pushback from from some of the anti animal agriculture groups, because they’re starting to attack the researchers that and their funding. So So there must be some truth. In that. Stephanie, I’ve

Adam Graft  11:08 

got a few questions for you. What is the role of environmental science and sustainability? Why is it important to have our proof points on this topic?

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  11:16 

I have a couple of answers to that. So I would say, why is it important, as Steve kind of alluded to, and and you were kind of talking in that more global aspect, you know, we are part of a food system. And that food system is made up of different components, whether it’s the ability to feed our population, provide nutritious food, to be able to give access to everyone, and also to minimize that impact on the environment. And really, that is part of the conversation that’s going on when we look at food systems. And we’re a really valuable part of that. And so the importance is really showing what our role is, and why dairy is so vital within that food system and that food system for the future. I would also say that, the second part of why specifically from the research side, it’s important is that really, we are able to be that connection between farmers and researchers, right? How many researchers are actually going out and chatting with farmers about what they’re facing are what they need, and making sure that the work that they’re doing is really going to be safe or efficacious and feasible for farmers. And so really, that’s a focus for us. Now, some researchers do that, but some maybe don’t have the opportunity, especially if they’re newer to have that connection. And that kind of leads me to my third point, which is probably a little bit of a selfish reason. I’m very grateful that dairies involved in this space, especially through checkoff, because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the funding. My background, I am not a farm gal I grew up in outside of New York City, I went to farm camp when I was little. And I fell in love with dairy cows, decided I was going to be James Harriet, obviously, an English country vet, because that was, you know, the knowledge that I had at nine years old. Eventually made my way though, to a master’s program in dairy cow immunology, and a PhD in dairy, food safety, and kind of on farm management decisions, and my PhD was funded by my local Promotion Board. And so for me, it is important to invest because you’re also investing in the next generation of researchers and scientists that are going to be working in this space

Adam Graft  13:34 

definitely have to bring our next generation along with this in the industry. You mentioned research a minute ago, can you speak to any current research projects underway that help farmers now or will help them in the future,

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  13:46 

I can talk about one that’s kind of near and dear to my heart, having been involved with it. We went ahead and we got together academic experts, industry experts and farmers and and asked them, what do we need to consider when we’re talking about feed additives? So to go back a lot of talk about feed additives in order to reduce enteric methane, is there something that we’re able to actually add to that cow’s ration to ensure that she might be burping up a little bit less methane and and minimizing those emissions? And there’s a lot to consider there. Especially not only is it safe for the animal or for the product and for humans, does it actually work? By how much does it work? How much would that cost? Right when we talk about return on investments? And so really, we went ahead and convened and engaged these experts and came up with an entire guidance document that has the criteria of what folks should think about. And from that we were actually able to develop a tool, it’s on our website, anybody can use it. And that tool really helps everyone in the dairy value chain, whether you are a producer who wants to make sure that if you’re looking at products try to understand really what that’s about. Or maybe if you are a retailer and need to understand what you might want to ask your suppliers to use, you can go through and make sure that, you know, maybe these need to check the boxes. It’s a decision support tool. And that’s really what we’re about, we want to make a tool that supports the decisions, we’re not going to tell a farmer what to do. That’s your farm, you get to decide. But hopefully with this tool, right from these experts, and keeping that in mind, they can go ahead and look at this, and put it into practice when more of these products come on the market.

Adam Graft  15:34 

So I’ve heard about one of the projects is around the green cattle initiative. Can you tell me more about this?

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  15:41 

So the greener cattle initiatives is really a giant partnership, it’s a global partnership really came into being through DMI and our partners at the foundation for food and ag research, which is really the foundation of the USDA, their acronym is far for people who maybe have heard far before and not know their their whole name. And what happened is, we realized that there was a lot of ask for understanding more about enteric methane emissions from cattle. But there’s not a lot of funding out there for researchers, there’s very small amount. And so we thought, could we get some people who would be interested in this space to get together, put up some of their money, and go ahead and essentially create kind of a award structure where we can give out that funding to researchers to do the needed work. So we actually were pretty successful in doing that our our kind of base contribution that we made on DMI side, we went ahead and got together with nine other partners. And originally, we were going to give out close to $5 million for researchers to look at things like feed additive supplements or to understand the rumen microbiome better, could we do something related to you know, selective breeding, just natural genetics and things like that. And we actually are almost going to double that amount. And so that that funding really multiplied out, and our other partners who joined are all across the globe. So we’re talking about genus, LLC, we’re talking about JBS Nestle along ko ADM, the Council for dairy cattle breeding the National de HIA. And then the New Zealand agriculture Greenhouse Gas Research Center, in addition to far, so all these folks thought that this is vital. And these we had over 100. And I think over 110 letters of intent from researchers across the globe. And we had to whittle that down. And we’re hopefully making announcement soon. But the whole idea is that we were able to go ahead, get all of these interested parties together, we are able to provide significant sources of funding to do research that is actually going to have tangible outcomes for farmers. So we’re pretty excited about that.

Adam Graft  18:13 

What role does science play in regards to short and long term measures for sustainability?

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  18:19 

Another really great question. So kind of when we talk about that, in general, science is important. You know, like Steve, Steve mentioned, because it goes back to that proof point question, we’re providing the transparency to the entire dairy value chain, and kind of the rest of the world about what we’re doing. And so by sharing how we are doing our work, and what we’re looking at, we’re able to actually be be quite open. We are science based, as Steve mentioned, right? We work with our researchers, we ensure we’re going through peer review processes, and we share that out. I think another thing is that for both short and long, it it’s a both end and not an either or. Right. So short term, it’s important to be able to highlight the progress that Steve said, Right we look at you’re referring to right so scientist, sorry, nerdy, I’m going to refer to the study by the author’s names. The capper KT study, is what we call it that showed the progress not only in our our intensity, you know, progress, but also the fact that, you know, from 2007 Compared to 2017, producing a gallon of milk took 17% less feed 21% less land, we use 31% less water. So having that data and getting it out there to show what’s already been done by folks is important. And then having the science whether it’s looking at how to make decisions about new technologies coming out, like feed additives, or looking to the future and making sure we’re actually providing funding for those researchers. Right, that’s going to be needed so that farmers can actually take advantage of opportunities that are going to come up in this space.

Adam Graft  20:06 

So one thing I’ve heard when talking with farmers about sustainability is a concern around a perceived lack of acknowledgement of the sustainable practices that farmers have been doing and getting credit for this work versus a focus on the new one, one example would be cover crops. We’ve been planting cover crops now for decades. Farmers are concerned that they want to get credit for the sustainability practices that they’ve been doing for years and years. How would you address that concern,

Steve Maddox  20:38 

we’re finally to the point of accurate measurements on carbon sequestration, to be able to monetize that in some of the companies that Stephanie mentioned, are working through proof. So they can claim the carbon credits for doing that. That’s another way of paying the bills on the farm. You also have other companies like Nestle’s and, and McDonald’s going, or Starbucks going directly out to farms, and doing test projects, just like that. So you do have, because of the work we’ve done in in the last 1315 years, expressly getting that science, we’re able now to start being able to monetize that. And the USDA is recognized that

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  21:33 

Yeah, I think to add to that, from kind of this more science research perspective, it might not be obvious to farmers, but I think their progress is noted and appreciated, because we do have partners like Nestle and Starbucks, who are willing to join with us right and invest in what we’re doing and moving forward. And they wouldn’t do that without the good base of progress. That’s that’s already been made in the work that’s already been done.

Steve Maddox  22:02 

They’re also promoting the work that their dairy farmers and farming in general is doing. Particularly even like Domino’s, putting it on their, on their pizza boxes, and on the efforts that we’re making. And having a third party talk about our efforts really gets us a lot farther down the road and combating the groups that are trying to rewrite animal welfare and

Adam Graft  22:26 

agriculture. It sure does. And, you know, animal agriculture, we’ve been the ultimate recyclers for years. And, you know, it’s good to let people know what we do and how we do it. So Steve, if there’s one thing that you leave the farmers listening to this podcast, what would you like them to remember or take away from this conversation? This,

Steve Maddox  22:45 

this is not a quick effort. It’s a long term effort, we’re in for the long haul. And, you know, I’ve got purebred cattle too. And that’s a long term investment genetically, and you’re trying every day, farmers wake up and check the weather, check the climate, and we adjust accordingly. And everything we do is to better the land, better communities, better things for our families. And this is an effort to protect that protect our social licence to, to operate and be part of the solution of communicating telling our story, and not necessarily selling it, but just inform people on what the truth is. And, and and we’re finding new ways of monetize monetizing what we’re doing for the carbon sequestration, or saving water or air quality. Those advantages are out there and be part of the solution as

Adam Graft  23:47 

a farmer myself, I couldn’t summed it up any better. Stephanie? In closing, what would what would you like us to remember, take away from this conversation?

Stephanie Masiello-Schuette  23:57 

A few things, one, be proud. I mean, right. We even have science to show the progress that’s been made. And that’s without all of these, you know, really promising tools or potentially innovations that are coming to realize that, you know, at least the scientists that are working for you realize how much of a vital part, dairy is in that food system for the future as we look at a growing planet. And I think finally to be proud that they’re supporting the advancement of science. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were the first ag sector to actually do an LCA. Right, Steve, when when that was actually commissioned and put out and so dairy is a leader in this space, and to be proud of that fact.

Adam Graft  24:45 

Well, thank you, Steve, and Stephanie, for this discussion today. It’s been interesting to hear about the check offs involvement in dairy sustainability. In closing, we just want to say thank you for joining us today. If you want to hear more about various issues affecting the dairy A community subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platforms including stitcher Spotify and iTunes or you can check out our website Dairy Checkoff podcast.com for future episodes until next time have a great day

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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