Benchmarking and Describing California Dairy Sustainability Metrics

Field Testing

RESEARCHER: Jennifer Heguy, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
TIMELINE: April 2023 – March 2024

BACKGROUND: California dairy producers lead the world in improving production efficiencies and product quality. Environmental stewardship’s current focus addresses the net zero initiative, water conservation, and the need to improve nitrogen management. However, benchmark data are not available for the industry for energy use (electric, natural gas, diesel, and gasoline), production area water needs, or nitrogen balance. Furthermore, options for additional on-farm manure utilization and processing are not well understood. Although current footprints are markedly improved from previous decades (improved efficiency of production per cow) we have no California specific energy estimates and outdated California specific water data to use as benchmarks, leaving the California dairy industry vulnerable to supply chain demands without knowing if demands are achievable.

OBJECTIVE: To establish benchmarking data for energy and production area water use for the development of future sustainability metrics. To evaluate nutrient management mitigation options to improve nitrogen use on-farm or convert manure nitrogen to forms for more economical transport.

INDUSTRY BENEFIT: Objective one will provide benchmark information for energy and water use. The outcome of this objective will provide essential information for producers (and their supply chain buyers) to identify realistic opportunities for improvement. Objective two will identify the potential for limited infrastructure manure mitigation options (pipelines, scrape, compost) to aid dairies’ increased access to land for on-site manure use while reducing supplemental commercial fertilizer usage or densification of manure for export. Identification of benchmarks and future options has the potential to inform decisions that assist producers in reaching their sustainability goals, as well as has the potential to inform funding decisions that assist producers in future nitrogen management efforts.