Dairy's climate footprint

Krysta Harden, U.S. Dairy Export Council CEO & President joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the dairy sector and its impact on the climate.

Video Transcript

- Well, the dairy industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. The demand for milk contributed to a near 20% increase in CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2015. That's according to data from the UN. That puts the industry's total carbon output on par with the aviation and shipping industries combined.

Let's bring in Krysta Harden. She's the US Dairy Export Council CEO and president. Krysta, it's great to talk to you today. Of course, we're having this conversation at a time when a lot of these dairy farmers are trying to recover the demand that was lost during the pandemic. How do these farmers continue to produce at the same rate that it's profitable, while also trying to reduce their carbon footprint?

KRYSTA HARDEN: Well, and that's a very good question. And it has been a year of like nothing we could have expect. Nobody could plan for what we've had to go through, with really the shifts of food consumption, of having a society in the US, in particular, where we eat out. We go to restaurants and institutions. And now, so much more cooking at home. And a lot of our packaging is really prepared for larger consumption institutions, like restaurants and other things, and then, you know, just at home.

So it has been a tough year. I will say that our farmers are resilient, they and our whole industry. We reacted as flexible as we can be. We're nimble to change what consumers want and need, depending on the situation. But yes, it was a tough year. But in spite of that, the dairy industry has had a proactive approach and ideas about our carbon footprint. We did our first lifecycle analysis back in 2007 in the US, really looking at our carbon footprint. Started setting goals, thinking about how to be that environmental solution. Just last year, in spite of COVID, we set really ambitious goals for our industry, looking at thinking about how we're going to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

- So Krysta, I mean, the dairy industry may have been proactive, but these numbers from the UN seem to suggest that the number hasn't gone down in terms of your output with CO2 gas. What's the plan here to make it sustainable, while also contributing to cutting down emissions?

KRYSTA HARDEN: Well, if you look at the US, it's a different number. And these are global numbers that you're showing, I believe. But there's a lot of things that farmers can do, and many of them are already doing it. Some things are simple, just about changing their energy sources or planting cover crops, by changing their water meters, by looking at a number of things, light bulbs in the barns, fans in the barns. But there's some very basic things that can be done.

But there's also the need for new technologies. And we are investing to make sure there's good research, that there's good work looking at genetics for cows, looking at their feed, what's going into the feed. Can make a big difference with enteric. So there's a number of activities and plans that farmers themselves can do. And I just want to remind everybody, no two farms are alike. This is not just, you know, a rubber stamp or a carbon copy that can be shared farm to farm. This-- every-- every farm is different, neighbor to neighbor, family member to family member. So it's just going to take some time to do this right. But what I would like to say is I do believe that the dairy industry is very committed to this. We want to be an environmental solution, not the numbers that you're pointing to, but finding ways to make things better for the environment.

- Krysta, in many ways, the dairy industry is going through the same challenges that the meat industry has from challengers who have come online with alternatives. You've got, increasingly, oat milk becoming popular. You've got almond milk, so many different milk alternatives. Do you see that as competition, or is that part of the solution to try and reduce the footprint here?

KRYSTA HARDEN: Well, what I would say is consumers want choices, right? And we understand that. But we still believe that dairy is about a good part of a health and wellness plan for families, that we do not see this as competition, but giving consumers what they want. But focusing on dairy, making sure our dairies are carbon-neutral or better, that's what we've got to do. And we believe that. We have to look at our water use, our nutrient management. We really are focused on how we are a better global citizen. And I believe you'll start to see those numbers reflect that. You certainly see that in the attitude from our industry, and that commitment to being part of the solution.