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By Megan Wittmeyer
  • Animal Science
  • Climate Change
  • Environment
  • Dairy

In 2020 Chobani partnered with Cornell CALS’ Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) to document dairy’s progress toward sustainability goals and help farmers further reduce the environmental impact of their farms. Hear from the researchers, Chobani collaborator and a participating farmer about the reasons for this partnership and how the project benefits New York’s dairy industry. 

As consumers become increasingly interested in their food’s impact, dairy farmers are taking strides to protect the environment with cover crops, sustainable manure storage systems and reduced tillage.

“Many farmers are using regenerative ag practices, but we don’t have the data to show it.  We’d like to learn just how these practices impact greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity,” said Roberta Osborne, director of Farms and Sustainability for Chobani, one of New York state’s largest and best-known yogurt producers. 

“We wanted to give our farmers sound data to back up their regenerative practices and show consumers how farms are working to improve sustainability,” said Osborne. 

Rather than start a project from scratch, Osborne chose to build on existing research grounded in “sound science, trusted partners, outreach ability and regenerative ag techniques.” From her 28 years as a dairy specialist with Michigan State University Extension, she knew that NMSP had such a program.

In 2020 Chobani offered Quirine Ketterings, director of NMSP and professor of nutrient management in the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science, a monetary gift to fund the “Dairy Sustainability Key Performance Indicators Project,” now in its third year.

Ketterings said the project employs on-farm research partnerships to expand NMSP’s trusted sustainability tools (like the nutrient mass balance) while exploring new tools that track greenhouse gas emissions and assess biodiversity. 

The nutrient mass balance tool helps dairy farms improve profitability and protect the environment by monitoring nitrogen and phosphorus levels. These key nutrients from manure are essential for crop production but when applied in excess can be subject to loss from fields and cause water and air quality issues. 

“Over our 17 years as participants in the Cornell Nutrient Mass Balance study, we have learned how small changes like modified cattle feeding practices can have a big impact on our farm’s sustainability,” said Meghan Hauser, co-owner of Table Rock Farm, one of the participating dairies.

Hauser said their farm was eager to join the Chobani project to expand its sustainability effort into biodiversity and carbon footprints. 

“One of the most exciting parts of this project is getting carbon footprint data,” said Ketterings. “We’ve been collecting that data for three years and we are just starting to analyze it. It’s great to see that the footprints reflect regenerative practices used by the farms.”

The results will be used to establish baseline footprints for dairy farms, pinpoint key drivers of emissions and recommend ways to reduce emissions. 

“With three years of data in place now, our entire farm team was eager to see our progress and to brainstorm about what further steps, such as increasing the acres we plant into living cover crop, we might take to improve our results,” said Hauser.

Osborne said the footprints are a big step for farmers to demonstrate responsible environmental stewardship to consumers. “Farmers’ efforts in using sustainable practices should be recognized; my goal is to make sure our customers know this, to continue to build trust in dairy, and ensure transparency with consumers.”


Megan Wittmeyer is a writer for the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program.