Canadian dairy farms are typically family-owned and passed down from generation to generation. Our farmers understand that the land they work is theirs to care for and safeguard for future generations. This sustainability principle is close to our farmers’ hearts, as they consider themselves stewards of the land that they themselves have inherited.
Working towards a greener future, today
Canadian dairy farmers make their living from the land, they work with family, and they belong to a community. As a result, they have an interest in conserving natural resources, and in keeping the land healthy and bountiful.
In Canada, dairy farmers use a framework called supply management. Milk production at the farm is driven by the philosophy that dairy farmers and processors work collectively to meet the demands of the Canadian market. It’s the opposite of economic growth at all costs. Supply management prevents overproduction, waste, and the depletion of resources. Rather than trying hard to expand into other markets, our dairy industry’s principal objective is to improve efficiency and sustainability at home – in everything from energy use and feed-to-food conversion, to land and resource management.
By embracing innovation and new ideas, furthering research, and infusing old wisdom into modern practices, we’ve reduced our industry’s environmental impact. Moreover, we’re continuously looking for ways to improve our practices on a national scale.
Did you know it takes 65% fewer dairy cows to produce milk for all of Canada today than it did 50 years ago? Improvements to cow comfort and feed efficiency have helped make Canadian dairy more sustainable, and on average cows are still only milked 2-3 times a day for 5-7 minutes each time.
Doing more with less
Protecting our environmental legacy is important to Canadian dairy farmers. Doing more with less means improving productivity, reducing waste, and managing resources responsibly. Here are just some of the ways we’re working to better our industry.
Lessening our environmental impact
Livestock management, manure management, and feed production are the main contributors to dairy’s carbon footprint. Through research and the continued adoption of better practices, Canadian dairy farmers have steadily improved the carbon footprint of milk production and they continually strive for better. Now at 0.92 kg of CO2 per litre, our dairy industry’s carbon footprint is among the lowest in the world.
As part of our ongoing environmental efforts, we initiated in 2017 an update to the environmental life cycle analysis (LCA) to measure the industry’s progress since the previous LCA completed in 2012. This study was conducted by an independent team of life cycle analysis professionals. It provides a measure of the industry’s progress towards more eco-efficient production, and efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, water consumption, and land use.
Increasing sustainability on the farm
Being kind to our planet means using fewer resources and using them in the most responsible way. Our farmers are exploring different ways to reuse, reduce, and recycle on the farm.
This includes using cow manure in combination with commercial fertilizers, and rotating crops to improve soil quality and fertility. The goal is to keep nutrients in the soil by minimizing losses from contact with water or the atmosphere.
Eco-efficient crop production is contributing to lowering our farms’ average land use. For instance, the land required to produce 1L milk is 1.7 square metres, roughly the same amount of land required to produce a standard loaf of bread.
Improving our environmental hoofprint
How we do what we do changes everything. Keeping cows comfortable, happy and healthy leads to increased productivity. Selecting good sires (bulls used for breeding purposes) can improve the genetic potential of each generation of cows and is key to better longevity and yield.
Giving animals a precise and balanced diet, with the right amount of protein, can also lower nitrogen content in manure. Plus, feeding an appropriate balance of energy-rich feeds lowers the amount of methane produced during the cow’s rumination (digestive process).
Finally, using renewable energy is another way some Canadian dairy farmers are making a difference. While some use biodigestors to transform methane from manure into electricity, others have turned to reusable energy, such as solar power and wind turbines on the farm.
Dairy Farmers of Canada invests in research exploring innovative ways our farms can enhance productivity while reducing their impact on the environment. Using this research, we’ve developed tools, fact sheets, and pilot programs to provide farmers with current scientific findings and practical resources. Our goal is to help Canadian dairy farmers increase their farm’s efficiency while implementing innovative ways to manage natural resources more responsibly. The more our farmers know, the better!
One way we set goals and implement new practices country-wide is through the proAction initiative. Additionally, we’ve developed Dairy Farms +, a tool that allows farmers to gain new knowledge, measure their farm’s footprint, and access personalized recommendations on how to improve their practices based on their current farming methods and data.
Our ongoing commitment to the environment
Canadian dairy farmers are committed to actively reducing the dairy industry’s impact and adopting responsible farming practices. By supporting Canadian dairy and promoting responsible farming, we can conserve our natural resources and protect the ability of future generations to provide high quality, sustainable, and nutritious foods for Canadians.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant supply chains: A global life cycle assessment.” fao.org
Quantis, Groupe Ageco, and CIRAIG. “Environmental and Socioeconomic Life Cycle Assessment of Canadian Milk.” dairyresearch.org.
Brian Van Doormaal. “Industry Leadership in Feed Efficiency Research.” www.cdn.ca