A $9.9 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the agriculture research department of University of Wisconsin will fund efforts for a more sustainable dairy industry.
This grant will be used to perform multi-institutional and multi-state test research, according to Raymond Knighton, a national program leader at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The grant is one of the numbers of what we call coordinated agricultural project,” Knighton said.
The USDA rewarded UW the majority of the grant, according to Knighton. He said Wisconsin is responsible for 48 percent of dairy production in the U.S. geographically and added the state has many qualified experts for sustainable dairy research.
The University of Michigan, Penn State, Cornell University, University of Arkansas, Northern Carolina A&T State University and University of Washington are the other universities involved in the project for sustainable dairy research, according to a UW statement.
The statement also said four USDA-ARS laboratories, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy will also be involved in the project.
The main focus of the project, Knighton said, is for researchers to look at the environmental footprint of common dairy production practice. Researchers will collect measurements to determine instances of gas emission, he added.
Once enough data is gathered, Knighton said researchers will carry out life cycle analysis data tests to employ the most qualified practice in order to reduce the environmental footprint.
Research teams will work with features of milk production to find effective ways to retain carbon, nitrogen and water, the statement said.
Accordingly, Knighton said another purpose of the research is for a greener and more efficient production process to help farmers adopt practices to adapt to climatic changes.
One of the main sources of gas emissions comes from the manure of cattle because they produce gas through a technical process called eructation, which is the oral ejection of gas or air from the stomach, according to Knighton.
Knighton said the USDA has learned a lot over the years about the level of crude protein in cows’ diet and the kinds of emissions.
One way to reduce the gas is to alternate the feeding system of cows, according to Matt Ruark, a UW assistant professor for the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and extension soils specialist.
“[We] can use the technology and evaluate the digestion process and how to manage it,” Ruark said.
Ruark said there is a team working on the development of a model for sustainable dairy research and the ability to predict gas emissions. In the long run, he said data can be used to build a comprehensive life cycle assessment to help in the understanding of the true life cycle, efficiency and sustainability of the production system.
Knighton said there are promising results that 25 percent of greenhouse gases will be reduced by 2020. As a result, he added USDA has entered an agreement to support the research and help to decrease gases.