By Gary Wheelock
Chief Executive Officer
New England Dairy & Food Council
On July 27th, regional leaders will convene in Burlington, Vermont to discuss the role of dairy and agriculture to local economies, including job creation and agri-tourism, as well as the crucial foods that are produced.
Despite its small size, the state of Vermont has a prestigious track record of cutting-edge leadership on agricultural sustainability issues. We know that dairy farmers have a long heritage as responsible stewards of the land, air and water, allowing them to pass their farms to their children. According to research from Cornell University, the U.S. dairy industry now produces a gallon of milk with 90% less land, 65% less water, 75% less manure, and a 63% smaller carbon footprint than in 1944.
Here in Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy program has helped to spur positive sustainability practices on farms. Caring Dairy is a collaborative project undertaken by Ben & Jerry’s to help farmers continually improve practices on their farms relative to energy and nutrient use, greenhouse gas emissions, pesticide use, animal husbandry, biodiversity, labor practices and farm economics. Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s Global Director of Social Mission, will be one of the panel speakers on “Increasing Local Farming and Sustainability.”
We’ll also hear from Marie Audet, owner of Blue Spruce Farms in tiny Bridport, Vermont. Blue Spruce Farms has developed a national reputation for its advanced sustainability practices. She joins the panel discussion on “Building a Resilient and Secure Food System.” This panel will also feature Chuck Ross, the Secretary of Agriculture of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Will Raap, chairman of Burlington’s Gardner’s Supply Company.
Through the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment and other programs, dairy farmers, dairy processors, retailers and businesses are working together so they can continue to provide products that are nutritious, produced responsibly and economically viable for all. I look forward to this discussion on Friday to get the insights of key thought leaders and farmers in our area and to link to a wider discussion about the Future of Food and how we dairy can play a role in feeding a growing population.
 J. L. Capper, R. A. Cady, and D. E. Bauman, “The environmental impact of dairy production: 1944 compared with 2007,” Journal of Animal Science 87 (Mar. 13, 2009): 2160–2167