Expert details how dairy producers can manage carbon

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

An agricultural systems expert says dairy producers can take action now to manage carbon emissions and prepare for the nascent carbon credit supply chain. 

“What’s going to matter is measurement,” said Jordan Kraft Lambert, vice president of business development for the dairy industry analytics firm VAS. “Measuring is a really good idea even if you don’t change anything right now. Measure as many things as possible — the health of your animals, soil carbon, whatever you can get your hands on.” 

She spoke yesterday during the Dairy Business Association’s annual Dairy Strong conference, held at the Monona Terrace in Madison. By starting with measuring factors that are relevant to a farm’s carbon footprint, she said dairy producers can establish baselines for future efforts. 

“When we measure things, we can manage things,” she said. “We can explore on-farm change scenarios as we learn more about how certain interventions can in fact impact the emissions and reductions that we can create. We can then make good decisions about which things we actually want to incorporate on our farms.” 

While discussions of carbon credit transfers and supply chains are still in their infancy, she argued that the U.S. dairy industry is “ahead of a lot of the other ag industries” in committing to net-zero carbon emission initiatives. 

In the meantime, she noted dairy producers can make changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cows digestive cycles, reduce emissions from manure and improve soil health and cropland to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. 

Looking ahead, she explained the industry is seeing the emergence of “a brand-new, very exciting field” called carbon counting. 

“As a result of all of these marketplaces showing up, we’re also seeing a supply chain — just like we have a supply chain for turning milk into yogurt and cheese, we’re seeing supply chains show up to connect the creators of carbon credits to the people that are going to buy them,” she said. 

Connections are being formed between farms, project developers and registries, brokers and corporate purchasers to facilitate the verification and exchange of these credits. But she highlighted a number of issues she says should be addressed for these supply chains to thrive. 

She noted the industry lacks consistent protocols for verifying carbon reductions and a shared understanding for how to measure and evaluate them. She argued trading infrastructure will be needed for high-volume purchases of carbon credits, also noting this would give banks the ability to create finance products such as options on credits. 

“Those are markers of a mature market system, and we don’t have any of those right now,” she said. 

In addition to these changes, she also pointed to the need for market safeguard mechanisms to help prevent money laundering.

— By Alex Moe