The center is currently collecting feedback from stakeholder groups including retailers and governmental agencies regarding the indicators or subjects to be included in an updated sustainability guide covering dairy production, said Roberta Osborne, manager of the Farm Smart project. The draft of the new guide includes several topics and metrics not used in past editions.
“Increasingly, consumers are asking questions about where their food is coming from, from feed to table and responding to these questions is important to dairy farmers,” she told Feed Navigator. “They want to improve consumer confidence in dairy and, in other words, be transparent.”
When completed, the guide would offer the US dairy industry away to respond in a unified manner to consumer concerns. The comment period regarding the indicators and measurement metrics is open through March 10.
The project also is intended to track and document progress made on stewardship and sustainability efforts in the dairy industry, reported the group.
In terms of dairy cattle feed, the data included would look at the percentage of coproducts or byproducts used in making a feed.
“About 80% of the dairy cow diet is inedible to people, and that’s a great story to tell,” she said. “It’s a very easy question for a farmer to answer, and yet it tells a powerful story to consumers.”
Certain indicators were selected on the basis they can be answered objectively and help improve transparency, she said. The guide will assess water use in dairy production and in the growing of feed crops, nutrient management plans, habitat potential, soil erosion from feed crop growth and feed efficiency.
“The consumers have asked these questions and are looking for answers and guidance,” she said. “It’s created a lot of pressure on brands."
Once completed, there will be an online tool that dairy producers across the country will be able to voluntarily fill out to provide information on the topics covered by the guide, she said. That information is generated into a report and aggregated data will be offered to the public.
The guide also is set to go through periodic updates after it has been established, she said.
An earlier version of the guide, released in 2013, focused on providing information regarding efforts on greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and animal care, she said.