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Organic Valley aims for a carbon-neutral supply chain

The cooperative of farmers and producers of private label dairy and produce had its dairy farms assessed for their carbon footprint compared to conventional dairy farms in the U.S.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Members of the Organic Valley farmers cooperative output a smaller carbon footprint than average U.S. conventional and organic dairy farms, according to an assessment by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and also a producer of private label products and branded Organic Valley dairy, egg and produce products. The La Farge, Wis.-based organization had the university look at phase one of Organic Valley’s dairy life cycle assessment (LCA), evaluating on-farm greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms in a diverse range of climates using different management practices.

The farming practices of Organic Valley farmers, according to the assessment, have a measurable benefit for the planet, reinforcing the cooperative’s commitment to bringing ethically made organic food to families everywhere, and, on average, the dairy farms of Organic Valley’s members have a smaller carbon footprint than average U.S. conventional and organic dairy overall.

The most significant difference in calculations of the carbon footprint of Organic Valley milk is in the inclusion of carbon sequestration from pasture as well as from forage and crop production. Including carbon sequestration in the LCA reduced the net farm emissions of the cooperative’s dairy farms by an average of 15%. On average, Organic Valley farmers report engaging in 50% more pasture grazing than that required by the National Organic Program, and the LCA results are impacted by this significant difference. In 2022, the full LCA will be completed, and Organic Valley will publish the overall impact of the cooperative’s organic milk.

“This LCA represents the most comprehensive organic dairy environmental impact assessment in the United States completed to date. The LCA covers a wide range of regions and management practices and includes the development of an innovative accounting method for carbon sequestration by Dr. Aguirre-Villegas,” said Rebecca Larson, UW - Madison professor.

In light of the study, the cooperative is debuting its commitment to a carbon-neutral supply chain by 2050 at New Hope’s Expo West. The cooperative is setting milestones to reach the goal, aiming for 15% of the way to being carbon neutral by 2030 and 30% by 2035.

“Our LCA provides evidence of our lower-than-average farm carbon footprint. Our company-owned facilities are powered with 100% renewable electricity, and we’re continually exploring ways to reduce the business’s impact further,” said Nicole Rakobitsch, director of sustainability at Organic Valley. “Together, our farms, our business, and our supply chain will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon.”

Organic Valley is taking a direct, hands-on approach to carbon neutrality, as it plans to achieve its climate goal without purchasing external carbon credits. Instead of offsetting emissions with credits like many U.S. companies, the cooperative’s efforts will reduce or eliminate emissions in the first place and maximize carbon sequestration on Organic Valley family farms across the country.