U.S. Dairy Industry: Leading the Way in Sustainable Innovation

U.S. dairy producers are leading the way in productivity and innovation when it comes to sustainable practices. Earlier this afternoon, I joined Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy CEO Tom Gallagher to renew an historic agreement with the dairy industry to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to accelerate the adoption of innovative waste-to-energy projects on U.S. dairy farms which help producers diversify revenues and reduce utility expenses on their operations. Today's extension of the Memorandum of Understanding is an acknowledgement of the dairy industry's legacy of stewardship and its ongoing commitment to improve our farms.

This pact extends the agreement I signed during climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. Since then, millions of dollars have been awarded to the dairy industry for conservation improvements, grants, research, renewable energy and efficiency. Not only is this funding helping dairy producers make their operations more sustainable, it is also helping their bottom lines. Consumers are likely to increase dairy purchases if they believe dairy is environmentally friendly in addition to being nutritious, good-tasting and a good value.

Since 2009, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has provided funding that has helped more than 6,000 dairy farmers plan and implement conservation practices to improve sustainability. NRCS support for the dairy industry has resulted in 354 on-farm and in-plant energy audits as well as 18 conservation innovation grants for dairy-related projects during the past three years.

USDA support for agricultural and waste-to-energy research has played a key role in the agreement's success to date. Since signing the MOU, USDA has made nearly 180 awards that helped finance the development, construction, and biogas production of anaerobic digester systems with Rural Development programs, such as the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, Value Added Producer Grants, amongst others. These systems capture methane and produce renewable energy for on-farm use and sale onto the electric grid. Additionally, during this period, USDA awarded approximately 140 REAP loans and grants to help dairy farmers develop other types of renewable energy and energy efficiency systems at their operations.

This agreement is a prime example of how the public and private sector are working with America's farmers and ranchers to take care of our planet. U.S. dairy producers are making great strides in sustainable practices and it is our job to continue to support them as excellent stewards of the land.

With the recent celebration of Earth Day, it is important to recognize the impressive efforts of our nation's dairy farmers. Dairy producers have taken a voluntary, proactive approach to conservation and thus serve as an exemplary model of the Obama Administration's overall energy priorities. I am confident that this agreement will help the dairy industry reach its long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.