Real California Milk Sets the Standard

On June 1st, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a proclamation declaring June 2016 as “Real California Milk Month.” This proclamation coincides with National Dairy Month. (See USDA’s “Let the Good Times Flow” here)

The governor touted the “innumerable ways” that dairy farms contribute to the state’s economic prosperity: “I urge all Californians to take time to appreciate living in one of the world’s great dairy-producing regions, and to support our industry by buying milk and other dairy products from our Golden State.”

Leading the industry in sustainable practices, California’s dairy farmers are among the most efficient milk producers in the world and make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. In 1994 California passed Wisconsin as the number one milk producer in the U.S., and that remains the case today by a large margin as this chart shows.

A study released last year led by Professor Daniel Sumner of UC Davis, found that in 2014 California milk production and processing contributed about $65 billion in total sales, and accounts for 190,000 jobs in the state. The study, which was commissioned by the CMAB, also showed that almost 50,000 of those jobs were in the San Joaquin Valley. The combined economic impact of the dairy industry in the Valley was near 30 percent of dairy’s contribution to California’s gross state product.

The study concluded that the “California dairy industry has developed into one of the most efficient, competitive and successful producers of milk products in the world. The economic health of the industry is important to the economy and to consumers locally and globally.”

Sustainable dairy practices in California and across the U.S. are also important locally and globally. Increasing productivity is critical to minimizing dairy’s carbon footprint and achieving GHG emission reductions in the dairy sector, especially in the developing world. Increasing productivity is important, the U.S. EPA has noted, because it indicates that “emission factors per unit of product are going down” in the U.S. As the Sumner study shows, California’s milk productivity has soared, particularly over the last decade.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has calculated global GHG-emissions per unit of milk produced in the regions of the world (see chart below). North America (i.e., U.S., Canada, Greenland, and Bermuda) has the lowest carbon footprint per unit of milk produced in the world, and about half of the global average. Led by California, that North American footprint can and will be reduced even further, no doubt. But it’s also clear that people everywhere could benefit greatly if dairy farms around the world could just get close to the low GHG-emissions per unit of milk produced here in California.

Governor Brown has often declared that he wants the Golden State to be a world leader in GHG emission reductions. As he noted in his proclamation, “California dairy farmers’ hard work has made them leaders in the field.” That leadership includes the utilization of sustainable practices that minimize GHG emissions by optimizing efficiency and productivity, which results in California and the rest of North America being the leader in GHG emissions per unit of milk produced. 

Estimated GHG emission per kg of fat and protein corrected milk at farm gate.             

Source: Gerber, P., Vellinga, T., Opio, C., Henderson, B., & Steinfeld, H. (2010). Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector, A Life Cycle Assessment. FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Animal Production and Health Division, Rome. Page 34.

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