Dairy producers pledge lower greenhouse gas emissions

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On Friday, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an industry advocacy group, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will seek to reduce the industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

The five-page agreement, signed at the White House on Wednesday, extends a 2009 agreement to save energy and accelerate the adoption of devices that use microorganisms to break down biodegradable material and produce energy. The MOU is intended to last for three years.

"Through this renewed commitment, USDA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy will continue research that helps dairy farmers improve the sustainability of their operations," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement announcing the agreement. "This vital research also will support the dairy industry as it works to reach its long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020."

A 2010 report by the United Nations found that global greenhouse gas emissions from dairy activities accounted for four percent of total human emissions.

As part of the agreement, dairy producers pledged to continue exploring ways to use devices called anaerobic digesters that convert captured methane to renewable energy and heat.

Since the 2009 signing, the USDA has awarded nearly 180 grants and loans to finance the devices, and approximately 140 to help dairy farmers develop other types of renewable energy.

"We are all interested in sustainable agriculture and producing good food responsibly, while bolstering an important rural economy, and this new MOU lays out the roadmap for more improvements," said Innovation Center CEO Thomas Gallagher. "That's good for dairy, good for the economy and good for consumers."