August 21, 2017

In this issue:

How is Canadian Dairy Sustainable?
Update on our sustainability initiative - proAction
Upcoming Symposium on how Canadian Dairy is Building a Sustainable Future!
The Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam

How is Canadian Dairy Sustainable?

On June 1st, 2017 Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) presented to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, which is studying the interconnection of agriculture and climate change. DFC discussed the impacts of climate change on farmers and highlighted some of their successful and ongoing efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Farmers are noticing the impact of climate change on-farm. Longer growing seasons due to warmer weather, increased risk of droughts, and new pests are all challenges that farmers are dealing with. The heat also has a negative impact on cows as heat stress in cattle causes a decrease in feed intake, which leads to a decrease in milk production, and increases the risk of health problems. Another change in the world of GHG emissions is the addition of carbon pricing. At this time, provincial differences can lead to cost inequalities in the market. In the same vein, countries that implement a carbon tax will have different levels of competitiveness than those who don’t.

There has been a lot of on-farm work as farmers continue to be responsible stewards of the land. According to Canada’s National Inventory Report on GHG, the dairy industry only accounted for 0.76 percent of Canada’s total emissions in 2015. Between a reduction in Canada’s carbon footprint and increase in milk production, there has been a 28% decrease in GHG emissions in Canada’s dairy industry from 1990 to 2015. The overall carbon footprint of a litre of Canadian milk was estimated in 2012 to be 1.01kg CO2-equivalent. Farmers even have a new tool – Dairy Farms + - that allows Canadian dairy farmers to assess the carbon footprint of their individual farms and provides resources to help them improve their environmental impacts.

DFC made a number of recommendations pertaining to GHG emissions reductions to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. This included:
  • Support for ongoing initiatives such as the Dairy Research Cluster’s work on improving dairy farm efficiency and sustainability
  • Support for the proAction initiative that helps farmers continually improve practices that benefit their farm, their animals, and the environment.
Dissemination of research results is key to innovation and supporting knowledge transfer initiatives is essential to advancing technology and best practices in any business. Alas, funding for knowledge transfer initiatives has been sparse since the 1990s and Canada is lagging behind other countries on that front. Looking beyond the dairy industry, support for cross-commodity collaboration and cost-sharing programs like crop insurance may help all farmers better prepare and handle climate change and its challenges.

Update on our sustainability initiative - proAction

The proAction Initiative is a customer assurance program initiated five years ago by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) and members to show how farmers responsibly produce milk. With proAction, farmers offer proof to customers that they work to ensure milk quality and safety, and to continually improve animal health and welfare, as well as environmental stewardship. Our proAction initiative is mandatory for all farms and is implemented progressively, one or two modules at a time over 10 years.

In the first quarter of 2017, DFC and provincial coordinators ran a three-month pilot project to test the integrated requirements of several proAction modules. The goal of the pilot was to evaluate the practicality of on-farm implementation and to validate the integrated requirements from the various modules of food safety, animal care, traceability, biosecurity and environment. The pilot underlined a few areas for program improvement, identified ways to streamline the process and also revealed that implementation of the requirements was feasible and that validations ran smoothly.

Participating farmers and validators were constructive in their feedback. Asked what they liked about it, many indicated that the program gave them the opportunity to demonstrate that they were producing safe and sustainable products, that it increased awareness of improved farm practices, particularly around biosecurity, and would ensure that all farms were meeting the same standards. Many farms commented that program requirements were already part of their regular on-farm routines and were not new actions. On traceability, there were no surprises either and the pilot confirmed what we knew already: we need improved tools for reporting and farmers respect the requirements for premise ID and animal ID.

Animal Care Assessments are Part of proAction
As part of the Animal Care module of proAction, specific signs of animal well-being are retained as measureable indicators. In fall of 2016, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) contracted Holstein Canada to assess such key animal welfare indicators as body condition score and the presence or absence of injuries on a statistically-significant number of cows in each herd. The cattle assessment provides farms with a benchmark from which they can plan measureable improvement.

September Milestone
Starting in September, animal care and livestock traceability requirements will be included in scheduled, regular on-farm validation. The pilot showed that farmers are prepared to start including these requirements. Participating farmers noted they were already meeting many of the requirements and that they were confident they could implement the module. The results, after over 6 months of farm assessments by Holstein Canada, also reveal good performance, which bodes well for the future of continuous improvement.

Upcoming Symposium on how Canadian Dairy is Building a Sustainable Future!

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) will be holding a symposium November 7th and 8th on dairy sustainability in Canada, now and going forward. Attendees will range from farmers and farm organizations, to processors and agri-food value-chain stakeholders.

On the first day, participants will visit dairy farms and a processing plant to discuss their sustainability initiatives and practices. An evening wine and cheese reception will showcase some of Canada’s fine dairy, and the research and marketing initiatives that support them. The second day will feature a wide variety of speakers who will cover the importance of sustainability from farm to plate. Registration information can be found here.

The Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam

In October 2016, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) attended the International Dairy Federation World Dairy Summit in Rotterdam to witness the signing of the Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam.

Members of the global dairy community have accepted the sustainability challenge. They are “committed to the sustainable development of the dairy sector to generate widespread benefits for people and the planet.” The declaration recognizes the importance of dairy not only in healthy diets but also for the livelihood of their countries. Looking ahead, the agreement focuses on the sustainability of the global dairy industry. Parties have agreed to “take an integrated approach…taking into consideration the social, economic, health and environmental dimensions”.

Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dairy Processors Association of Canada and IDF-Canada officially signed the declaration, accepting the sustainability challenge, during the DFC Annual Meeting in July. Dairy farmers have also shown continued commitment to sustainability through both the proAction initiative and ongoing commitment to constantly supplying the market demand for milk in Canada. The Agreement can be found here.

Dairy links

Canada is using genetics to make cows less gassy
July 9, 2017 – Wired
Dairy farm goes high tech with robots
May 24, 2017 – Brantford Expositor
Canada's Dairy Farmers Lead the Herd in Animal Welfare Through proAction
June 1, 2017 – Personal Health News
The Case for Eating Butter Just Got Stronger
June 29, 2016 – Time
Dairy Farmers of Canada annual meeting
August 3, 2017 – Western Producer

other Sustainability News

The sustainability conundrum
June 14, 2017  – Country Guide
Feds want food strategy done by spring - MacAulay
June 7, 2017 – iPolitics
Ontario watershed study shows overapplication of phosphorus
June 1, 2017 – Manitoba Cooperator
Senate focuses on how climate change affects farmers
April 7, 2017 – Western Producer
Precision ag heads to barns
March 2, 2017  Western Producer
The ‘sustainable’ agriculture advantage
June 13, 2016 – Country Guide
Purchasing power: 10 lessons on getting more local sustainable and delicious food
March 2017 Food – Secure Canada

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