Can Dairy Farming be Carbon Positive?

Organic Valley Secures $2.2M+ in Public & Private Funding for Co-op Members to Ratchet Up Climate Smart Farming

Three Organic Valley cooperative member farms are breaking ground on a new, higher bar for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions reductions called Climate-Smart Farming (CSF), with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality, or even a carbon-positive position. With kindred spirit Annie’s Homegrown as a catalyst, the co-op has the distinct ability to scale learnings to other Organic Valley regional farms (36 in California), and potentially across the entire cooperative of more than 2000 organic farms; beyond that, learnings will be shared with non-member dairies in other states—including from competitive brands.

As part of Organic Valley’s commitment to climate-beneficial practices, and driven by CA laws that require dairies to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030, the co-op’s sustainability team helped secure $2.2M+ to support new carbon sequestering and methane reducing initiatives on California farms. The planning started in November 2017, as part of a partnership with Annie’s which provided seed money to help fund three Dairy Carbon Farm Plans.  State of California funding through California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) brings these plans to life by providing a significant portion of the installation costs through the new Healthy Soils Program (HSP), Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“The success of this work is due to a unique and powerful collaboration between private industry, local nonprofits, and government,” explains Jessica Luhning, Sustainability Manager for Organic Valley. “Gold Ridge, Sonoma County, and Mendocino County Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), with the assistance of the Carbon Cycle Institute, provided the technical expertise in the development of 3 carbon farm plans on three Northern California Organic Valley dairy farms, which outlined additional practices that each farm could implement in order to sequester even more carbon and reduce emissions.”  

At Organic Valley, Climate-Smart Farming (CSF) is an approach to farming that addresses the challenges of food security and a changing climate.

CSF has three main outcomes:

  1. Sustainable Production: Sustainably increase agricultural productivity and income.
  2. Resiliency: Adapt and build resilience to climate change.
  3. Mitigation: Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, where possible.

Climate-Smart Farming is not new at Organic Valley, although the way we talk about it is. Our sustainability team began offering support services to farmers for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 2008 and have enacted over 150 projects with a potential net lifetime savings of $6M. Manure management and carbon farming became a new sustainability service for our farmers in 2018, largely due to progressive policy and funding opportunities in California, where we have 36 family farms. Farmer-friendly incentives drive change, so the Organic Valley sustainability team provides technical and grant writing assistance to farmer-owners nationwide who wish to make these types of improvements on their farms.

Climate Smart Farming, and Carbon Farming in particular, is at the heart of organic agriculture. The philosophy of organic farming includes a focus on soil health, biodiversity, and soil and water conservation; in fact, it is written into the National Organic Standards that every certified organic farmer must follow. The examples of practices below are the ones that we feel most clearly represent the concept of carbon farming.

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