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Alignment with SDGs
Annie AcMoody, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Ottawa • Canada
The Canadian dairy sector is internationally recognized as a global leader in sustainability, with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world per litre of milk produced (0.94 kg CO2-eq in 2016). Thanks to increases in production efficiency, from 1990 to 2019, dairy farmers reduced the carbon footprint of milk production by 24% on a per-litre basis. Climate change has affected millions all over the world, and Canadian dairy farmers have not been immune to its impacts. From being forced to evacuate cattle due to wildfires and flooding, to feed shortages due to drought, our farmers have endured many unusual challenges in recent months due to extreme weather. That’s why they are proud to do their part to combat climate change.
In February 2022, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) announced a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from farm-level dairy production by the year 2050. This aligns with the goals set by the Canadian government and the global dairy sector and was established in consultation with farmers and experts based on the best available scientific evidence. Canadian dairy farmers are efficient and have always been able to adapt quickly to meet new standards. Their flexibility, enthusiasm and ambition put this goal within reach.
Canadian dairy farmers have a longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability and pride themselves on being environmental stewards. DFC’s proAction® initiative provides a national quality assurance framework with emphasis in six key areas, including the environment. A critical component of this is ensuring every Canadian dairy farm has an environmental farm plan, which includes an on-farm risk assessment and the development of an individual action plan. Additionally, since 2011, DFC has used a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to assess the environmental footprint of milk production.
In 2021, DFC began the development of a sustainability strategy at the direction of its members. Our farmers are dedicated to sustaining and improving the land they use and are committed to continuing to adopt farm practices that mitigate environmental impacts. This initiative encompasses several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including responsible consumption and production (goal 12), urgent action to combat climate change (goal 13), and the protection and promotion of the sustainable use of land (goal 15).
Materials and methods
To help support the development of a more formalized national environmental objective and build on the work already underway, DFC formed a Sustainability Working Group that included staff membership from each provincial dairy farmer organization. DFC also solicited input from dairy farmers from each province to ensure that regional concerns were being considered and that planned efforts would be feasible nationwide.
DFC started by conducting a materiality assessment, which found that the top priority for stakeholders and consumers alike was to address GHG emissions. Other priorities included biodiversity, soil health and land use, waste, water use and quality, and energy use and efficiency. To develop a strategy to address these areas, DFC engaged consultants at Viresco Solutions, specialists in low carbon and sustainable agriculture. Viresco Solutions carried out an assessment of best management practices that could be implemented on-farm to reduce GHG emissions, considering impact, ease of implementation, and cost-effectiveness. In each province, dairy farmers were enlisted to participate in focus groups to provide input on the feasibility of implementing the strategies in their region.
Based on current adoption rates of various practices and in consultation with experts, Viresco Solutions modelled several reduction scenarios for consideration. Based on previous environmental progress and a commitment to continued improvement, DFC confidently set a goal to reach net-zero GHG emissions from farm-level dairy production by the year 2050.
The net-zero goal was announced at DFC’s Annual Policy Conference in February 2022 and was well-received by farmers, stakeholders and the Canadian public. All dairy farmers in Canada were invited to participate in a Farmer Sustainability Advisory Group to provide input on the implementation plan. This group is supporting the development of the Roadmap to Net Zero, which will be further detailed summer 2022. It was established that the net-zero goal will be achieved through emissions reductions and GHG removal offsets. This process also led to the decision that the Canadian dairy sector will adopt targets related to soil, biodiversity, waste and energy to get closer to their goal. Currently, DFC is working on a roadmap and will monitor progress through a bi-annual questionnaire to all farmers, which is already a part of the proAction initiative, in-addition to the Life Cycle Assessment that is completed every five years.
These strategies form the basis of a plan that will continue to evolve over the coming decades as science progresses and new technologies become available.
Net-zero can only be achieved through the involvement of multiple actors working together towards one target: a better tomorrow. This commitment represents a continuation of Canadian dairy farmers’ ongoing efforts related to environmental stewardship through adopting practices based on science and innovation. Not only does DFC’s goal align with the Canadian government’s emissions-reduction objectives, but with international targets as well. The Paris Agreement, for instance, aims to foster climate resilience and lower greenhouse gas development while working towards a lower carbon future. Additionally, last fall, DFC also joined Pathways to Dairy Net Zero, a Global Dairy Platform-sponsored commitment towards net-zero GHG emissions.
These shared objectives are part of a larger global effort to reduce the direct costs of emissions on the health, environment and economy of all nations. In Canada, this target has helped further the cooperation and solidarity between dairy farmers as they work towards a common goal and assures consumers that choosing Canadian milk aligns with their preference for sustainable options. Achieving net-zero in a Canadian context will only be possible thanks to the cooperation of members from each provincial dairy farmer organization, guidance from subject-matter experts, and most importantly, through continued consultation with farmers. The on-the-ground experience of our farmers is irreplaceable and invaluable, which has been clearly demonstrated through the insights they provided while developing this ambitious goal for the sustainability of our planet.
Dairy Farmers of Canada. DFC Targets Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050. https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-in-canada/dairy-excellence/dfc-targets-net-zero-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2050
Dairy Farmers of Canada. AGÉCO Study Results Reveal Improved Environmental Impact and Efficiency of Canadian Milk Production. https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-in-canada/news-releases/ageco-study-results-reveal-improved-environmental-impact-and-efficiency-canadian-milk-production