This article was originally published on Sustainable Brands.
Dairy is an essential part of life for people across the globe. Dairy products fulfill the dietary needs of millions, contributing to 10 percent of daily protein intake — and in the United States alone, the industry supports approximately 3 million jobs.
However, the dairy industry is deeply intertwined with climate change: Animal husbandry (including dairy cattle) is responsible for 14.5 percent of global emissions — but it is also heavily impacted by the effects of climate change. As our global climate shifts, dairy farms will be increasingly at risk due to heat stress and precipitation extremes. Producers will need help adapting to climate shifts and ensuring that their herds are safe and milk supply is protected.
Thankfully, the industry has the potential to mitigate climate change on a large scale. Climate-smart farming practices can curb agriculture's environmental impact while working to preserve livelihoods and nutritional support globally.
This is why Stonyfield Organic is working with Regrow Ag to baseline current emissions and carbon storage on organic dairy farms in its supply chain, assess the potential outcomes of sustainable practices and empower the dairy industry to adopt climate-smart farming methods at scale.
Rooted in sustainability
Stonyfield Organic — a 40-year-old brand that is the country’s leading producer of organic dairy and yogurt products in the US — was built around a commitment to sustainability.
“Stonyfield was founded with the belief that organic agriculture is a pathway to both human and planetary health,” Dana Bourne, Sustainable Agriculture Manager at Stonyfield, told Sustainable Brands®. “Sustainability has always been central to our mission; and we make sure to follow the science — adjusting our sustainability strategy to support farmers, and the dairy industry as a whole, to take a leadership role in climate mitigation and resilience.”
Stonyfield has continually adjusted its sustainability practices to align with the latest scientific insights and technologies — working closely with farmers to reduce emissions and enhance farm resilience. The company provides farms in its direct supply with up to $4,000 a year in technical assistance funds — for anything from sustainability initiatives and animal-welfare projects to succession and business planning. Stonyfield currently sources directly from 37 organic dairy farms and works with Organic Valley cooperative to fulfill the remainder of its sourcing needs.
Now, Stonyfield is working with Regrow Ag to baseline soil carbon and emissions from pasture and hayfields on farms in its direct supply, to assess the impacts of organic land management and determine next steps in building a soil-health program that contributes to Stonyfield’s ambitious climate goals.
This includes reducing its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions 30 percent by 2030, a target approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The company is working closely with farmers and with partners across its supply chain to support and implement climate-smart programs in service of this target. However, reducing emissions in the agricultural sector comes with its own challenges.
Challenges in reducing agricultural emissions
First and foremost, it’s important to center farmers in emissions-reduction efforts.
“We have to be mindful of the fact that every farm is unique,” Bourne said. “They have different sources of impact, opportunities, interests and practices — they're all their own business. So, we have to be thoughtful about what we’re asking the farmers to do and be responsive to their needs.”
Second, data collection within agriculture can pose a significant hurdle for climate-smart programs. Each farm within Stonyfield's direct supply conducts a carbon-footprint analysis to pinpoint the specific challenges and emissions-reduction opportunities associated with that farm.
The company is working intensively with 16 of its farms to collect high-level data — incentivizing the farmers by paying them to collect this data and giving them personalized advice and group technical assistance with regional experts. However, this data collection presents a substantial challenge — particularly when it involves gathering data that aligns with corporate GHG-reporting requirements.
“One of the challenging things is how to account for things that are hard to measure — the benefits of organic management on biodiversity, soil health, soil carbon, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air quality, water quality, all these things,” Bourne said. “There's published research on these topics; but it’s really hard to actually track across a large number of farms.”
She says Stonyfield is working with Regrow Ag’s technology to tackle these challenges by focusing on farmers and their needs in the field: “An additional challenge is that most tools are developed with larger-scale, conventional farming operations in mind. Our partnership with Regrow aims to close that gap and calibrate a tool that can model organic, pasture-based operations like those in our supply.”
Measuring impact with Regrow
To address these challenges, Stonyfield worked with Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the USDA and others to build OpenTEAM — an initiative focused on convening diverse stakeholders across the agriculture sector to encourage knowledge-sharing, developing shared approaches to data collection and exchange, and respecting data privacy. Through OpenTEAM, Stonyfield is working to increase the ease and efficiency of data management across a variety of its technology and measurement providers — including Regrow Ag.
A leading agricultural Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) software provider, Regrow enables brands and their agricultural partners to measure the impacts of regenerative-farming practices. Its partnership with Stonyfield not only assists farmers but also ensures the dairy brand remains on track with its SBTi-approved GHG-reduction targets.
“With Regrow, we hope to get better insights into what is happening on the ground and create a baseline for soil-health management,” Bourne asserted. “But not just soil carbon — we can also model field emissions and get better data on what’s happening at a landscape scale across farms in our supply. Each farm is different; so as soon as we have this baseline, we can find opportunities for tailored improvements.”
Regrow’s Agriculture Resilience platform enables partners to establish a baseline for soil organic carbon (SOC) levels and emissions across farms. The collaboration allows Stonyfield to model potential practice adjustments with the goal of increasing carbon storage and reducing net field emissions. These scenarios will help Stonyfield determine how to build out a program aligned with its science-based target that empowers farmers with actionable insights to bolster emission-reduction and carbon-sequestration efforts.
Furthermore, this soil baseline will supply Stonyfield with an SBTi-compliant SOC reference point. This multifaceted approach helps prove the business case for widespread adoption of regenerative practices by highlighting the opportunity that lies in emissions reduction for dairy production, and by allowing Stonyfield to more accurately track progress against its science-based targets.
“The dairy industry is a significant contributor to our food systems — including our public health and global economy,” said Regrow co-founder and CSO Bill Salas. “With such great impact, there’s also an opportunity to build resilience. We’re excited to work with Stonyfield to baseline emissions, understand the impact of climate-smart practices and accelerate climate action in the dairy sector.”
Cultivating resilient dairy
By embracing organic and regenerative practices, Stonyfield is advancing both environmental and community wellbeing in dairy farming.
“We see resilience in the dairy industry as being about nature, people and animals,” Bourne said. “And we see organic farming as the foundation to achieving resilience — because it benefits local communities, ensures good jobs, promotes health and safety for farm workers, and supports animal welfare.”
Learn more about agriculture resilience.