UW–Madison a partner in Net Zero Initiative to cut U.S. dairy industry emissions

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a partner in a new multi-state, multi-institution project to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. dairy industry. The project, funded in part through a $10 million grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), seeks to support U.S. dairy’s Net Zero Initiative (NZI) as a critical on-farm pathway to advance the industrywide 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals that were set through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The funding will support a six-year project – titled “Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration: building soil health to reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality and enable new economic benefits” – that will produce data to be broadly shared among the dairy community to:

  • Provide measurement-based assessments of dairy’s greenhouse gas footprint for feed production.
  • Set the stage for new market opportunities related to carbon, water quality and soil health.

The FFAR grant will be matched by financial contributions from NZI partners such as Nestlé, the dairy industry, including Newtrient, and in-kind support for a total of $23.2 million. The funds will be managed by the Dairy Research Institute (DRI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity founded and staffed by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) to conduct vital research on behalf of the industry. DMI scientists will serve as the project leads to address research gaps in feed production and manure-based fertilizers that, once filled, will enable new markets, incentives and investments in dairy sustainability.

“Addressing the U.S. dairy industry’s emissions is a critical solution to climate change,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “I know dairy farmers are working hard to decrease their environmental footprint and I’m thrilled to support their efforts by advancing research needed to adopt climate-smart practices on dairy farms across the country.”

UW–Madison is a key partner in the project. Researchers and staff will participate by conducting field studies in Wisconsin to measure environmental responses to various crop management interventions aimed at building soil health, reducing greenhouse gases, improving water quality and enabling new economic opportunities for dairies.

“We are establishing two experiments at Arlington Agricultural Research Station addressing how treated manure combined with cover crops affects soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen dynamics,” says Randy Jackson, UW–Madison professor of agronomy. “We’re also collaborating with the Kinnard Farms in Kewaunee County and the Soil Health Institute across a range of farms—about 36—on similar questions to complement the ARS work. Similar experiments are being established by the other land grant institutions on the project.”

Through foundational science, on-farm pilots and development of new product markets, NZI aims to knock down barriers and create incentives for farmers that will lead to economic viability and positive environmental impact.

“After six years, we will have data that accurately reflect our farms’ greenhouse gas footprint for dairy crop rotations with consideration for soil health management practices and new manure-based products,” said Dr. Jim Wallace, senior vice president of environmental research for DMI. “We expect to develop critical insights that link soil health outcomes, such as carbon sequestration, with practice and technology adoption. This will provide important background information to support the development of new carbon and water quality markets.”

The project will be executed across four dairy regions responsible for about 80 percent of U.S. milk production: Northeast, Lakes, Mountain and Pacific. It entails a collaboration of NZI, the Soil Health Institute and leading dairy research institutions. In addition to UW–Madison, these institutions include: Cornell University, University of California at Davis, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, University of Vermont, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research in Kimberly, Idaho.

Dozens of dairies representing climates and soils of these major production regions will participate in a baseline survey of soil health and carbon storage. Additionally, eight farms, including five operating dairies, two university research dairies and one USDA ARS research farm, will participate in the project. These pilots will be used to engage farmers in soil health management practices and monitor changes in greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon storage, soil health and water quality.

NZI is an industry-wide effort led by six national dairy organizations: DMI, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, International Dairy Foods Association, Newtrient, National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Ultimately, NZI hopes to support the industry to advance toward its collective goals, realize untapped value to support economic viability and enable other industries and communities to be more sustainable.

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Note: This CALS article is based on a news release distributed by the NZI group. Read the full, original release at