A solution in the sustainability discussion

PDP rolls out new initiative


JUNEAU, Wis. — With increasing demand for transparency from consumers and the trend toward climate neutrality growing, Professional Dairy Producers is helping farmers drive the discussion with a new sustainability measuring program called Your Farm – Your Footprint.

“I wholeheartedly believe that there is no one more sustainable on this planet in the work that we do in feeding the world than fellow dairy farmers,” Shelly Mayer said. “This initiative is a leap forward in supporting us and putting information in our hands that allows us not just to tell our story but to hone and continue to improve what we do every single day and that is to produce the very best food for the world in the most sustainable way.”

Mayer is the executive director of PDP and announced the initiative Feb. 29 in a webinar. Joining Mayer were JJ Pagel from Kewaunee and Janet Clark from Rosendale, both participants in a pilot program that tested the initiative in 2023.

The initiative allows farmers to know and understand the environmental impact of their farms by measuring their carbon and methane emissions. This gives farmers a baseline and guides them toward improving their sustainability score.

The program has five elements. It provides a sustainability score, a customized roadmap to operational improvements, farm-based technical support, peer group sharing and cost-share grants.

To obtain a score, producers sign up for the program through the PDP website. Once engaged, a third-party data collector, Sustainable Environmental Consultants, will call the producer and collect data regarding the farm’s energy use, propane use, electricity use, herd data, feed rations and nutrient management plans.

Clark said this was easy to do.

“You supply your data either electronically or over the phone,” Clark said. “The information or practices we are currently doing was at our fingertips. All that information are things that we use on a daily or monthly basis on our farm.”

The data is kept confidential. Once it is submitted, producers will get their score within 45 working days. The score comes with a report that itemizes the impact of each farming practice. 

For example, Pagel found that by having a manure digester, planting cover crops and utilizing no-till farming, his farm has 3,533 fewer tons of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to removing 686 passenger cars from the road. The farm also sequestered 963 tons of carbon, which is equivalent to 48 large dump trucks.

“It’s very cool what you can put into layman’s terms, and you can show people how this is affecting things you do on your site,” Pagel said. “It was cool to learn about other things we can do to make our score even better.”

The reports come with a custom road map for how to improve the farm’s sustainability score. When the report is delivered, it includes two hours of farm-based support from SEC representatives who explain the data and provide suggestions for going forward.

Producers also have the option to participate in a peer group. The farm score and all data remain confidential unless producers opt in to a peer group. In the peer group, each farm’s sustainability score is shared with other members as well as an overall group score.

Clark said the collaborative discussion in the peer group helped her determine which areas of improvement should be prioritized.

“The interesting part of the peer group was learning from farms that farm differently than us,” Clark said. “I was really excited to see how some of the farms had a more measurable impact on their overall sustainability score. When my family and I are looking at plans for the future of our farm, we’re going to make sure that some of those practices we take into consideration as we move forward through expansion or the current process of our dairy farm.”

Mayer said the program is designed to be workable for farms of all sizes.

“This initiative program is completely size neutral,” Mayer said. “We recognize the strength of the U.S. dairy industry is our diversity. So, it needs to be able to work for dairies of all sizes.”

The cost for dairy farmers to engage in this pilot program is about $1 per acre with a cap of $500. This investment is offset by grants of $4,750 from the Dairy’s Foundation, which covers the cost of implementing, collecting and measuring the data.

“Now the next step is for dairy farmers, all of them out there, wherever they come from in the U.S.,” Mayer said. “Get involved, get engaged. We are empowering you to lead the discussion on your farm’s sustainability.”


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