Krysta Harden, an Obama administration USDA official and veteran ag lobbyist, says consumer concerns over the environmental impact of dairy production are not going away any time soon.

Harden, who joined Dairy Management Inc. in April as the group’s executive vice president of global environmental strategy, said producers recognize the consumer interest in their industry.

“They feel the pressure, they feel this is not a trend, it's not going away. There’s very strong interest from the consuming public about the environment,” she said. “(Consumers) recognize dairy may be good for them nutritiously, but is it good for their community, is it good for the planet?”

Harden pointed to reductions in the average carbon footprint of a gallon of milk — a drop of about 60% in the last 70 years — and the dairy industry’s pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by 2020. She said the industry is still gathering data on its efforts and plans to release a report at an upcoming event in November with figures up to 2017.

As for the issue of consumer perception, Harden said she wants to see dairy farmers — some of whom say they love the dairy industry but “just want to milk cows” — play a more central role in addressing environmental concerns.

“Somehow or another, we’ve got to empower more of them to feel comfortable, to help them have the time … to have conversations outside their peer group and community,” she said.

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