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Land O’Lakes announced that all dairy farmers that sell to the cooperative will complete a farm sustainability assessment. What does that mean?

Willie Vogt

March 25, 2021

3 Min Read
Lineup of holstein cows feeding at a dairy
MEASURING SUSTAINABILITY: Dairies selling to Land O’Lakes will be completing in-depth sustainability assessments for their operations. Beyond telling a story about current practices, the assessment may reveal opportunities for those farmers to improve their economic sustainability.bizoo_n/Getty Images

On March 11, Land O'Lakes announced a commitment to perform on-farm sustainability assessments for every dairy farm that sells to the cooperative. The effort involves in-depth work for every dairy farmer — but how does that effort help the dairy farm? And what does it mean for the cooperative?

Farm Progress reached out to Pete Kappelman, Land O’Lakes senior vice president of member and government relations, to learn more.

“[The dairy farmer] needs to understand how valuable it can be, and how important it will be,” Kappelman says. “This is an opportunity for our dairy members to position themselves as sustainable.”

While the cooperative publicly committed to finishing the assessments of 1,600 operations by 2025, Kappelman explains that more than half have already been completed. “We want the producer to understand the opportunities this creates not only for their farm, but also for their cooperative,” Kappelman adds.

The dairy industry’s product is as close to direct-to-consumer with little processing as any farm product. Even cheese, from dairy products, is a popular product. But as consumers learn more about where their food comes from, farmers and the industry want to be sure the messages received are accurate.

In addition, Kappelman explains that the assessment can also be a management guide for dairies working to be more efficient. “Participating in the assessment gives us, and that producer, a benchmark to move from. Without that benchmark for each dairy, it would be impossible to measure progress,” he says.

Dealing with a changing marketplace

Kappelman explains that the consumer wants to know more about the sustainability of dairy farming, and that means being able to demonstrate how that’s achieved. He notes that a sustainability assessment could become “table stakes” for the industry, requiring every dairy farm to take part, and that’s what is driving Land O’Lakes forward on this effort.

“Getting out ahead of it positions us well, and our products well, and our producers,” he says. “Consumers want to know that as the industry talks about sustainability, what does that mean?”

The good news is that the dairy industry has already made great strides to improve efficiency and sustainability. The challenge is determining the tactics going forward, and this broad assessment approach for Land O'Lakes could help farmers with those decisions.

“Someone might say, “'I don’t know if I can afford methane digestion.’ But that’s just one opportunity. One thing that is important is for producers to recognize there are a wide array of opportunities,” he says.

And that’s a key point of this evaluation process. Kappelman explains that this effort can help a farmer identify a range of options for improving efficiency and sustainability. “I think the point that needs to be emphasized is that this is not just about environmental sustainability, it’s economic sustainability as well for producers,” he says. “A lot of these practices can save money or generate more income, depending on which ones they choose.”

Kappelman notes that as the cooperative has gone through these assessments, farmers have realized “there’s a learning here. There’s an opportunity here to improve my business. That message is very well-received,” he says.

About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Willie Vogt has been covering agricultural technology for more than 40 years, with most of that time as editorial director for Farm Progress. He is passionate about helping farmers better understand how technology can help them succeed, when appropriately applied.

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