How often, or when was the last time, you had a conversation about your farm's emissions with your feed company?

Tom Gill, head of sustainability at Promar International, posed the question to participants at today's Women in Dairy virtual conference.

GIll explained how Covid-19 had created a fresh opportunity for the dairy industry to create more sustainable supply chains.

"It's not about calling anyone out, but just saying let's broaden the conversations we have on farm to adopt and incorporate a wide set of metrics to what we traditionally have done," he said.

The pandemic pause on emissions

"This year, [globally] we could be looking to finish anywhere between a 2% and a 7% drop in emissions from energy and industry.

"An 8% reduction is kind of what we need to hit every year to maintain a track towards a sub 2°C [global temperature increase]," he explained.

But is that the kind of solution we are looking for - where society comes to a complete standstill?

"I'd imagine that all of us within the conference would feel that isn't a position that is easy for anyone to take. However, that is the size of the reduction on an annual basis we are starting to look for when it comes to projections going forwards.

"The question is, how do we do that in an environmental and socially responsible way?"

Gill explained that since the 1990s, there has been around a 20% reduction in emissions within the dairy industry while production has increased.

"But clearly, we will want to see further reductions to maintain our contribution towards this global picture, which requires some different thinking," he said.

"The key part from an agricultural point of view is the methane emissions.

"Looking at how we manage manures and slurries, and type and size of the animal we have all can make positive contributions to the reduction of methane within our systems. But it's not just about emissions, but also water quality and air quality."

Building beyond Covid-19

It's a topic of huge commercial importance to many companies, as Gill highlighted one study, which found 82% of consumers said they actively seek out more sustainable products.

During the pandemic, he said he had noticed a "real connection" back to food production.

"That is quite an interesting perception to share on the basis that sometimes it doesn't quite feel like the policy position is aligned," he said.

For dairy systems in particular, for the next two years, five years, 10 years, we need to have a vision. But we need to start from a point where you feel like you have an influence. And it's within your operation that you have that ability.

"There are plenty of issues where we will need to collaborate, but I would ask you to think about your own business and why you do what you do.

"Measure monitor and improve, emphasize your values and ethics, and engage and communicate with the community around you."

This year’s Women in Dairy virtual conference attracted 100 delegates and included sessions on the state of the dairy market, sustainability, animal health, and marketing.

Women in Dairy is an RABDF initiative, designed to bring women working in the dairy industry together through regional discussion group meetings.