Evaluating sustainability of dairy production systems in South Dakota: Relationship between milk carbon footprint and farm profitability

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $249,824.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2026
Grant Recipient: South Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Maristela Rovai, DVM
South Dakota State University - DEPT. DAIRY & FOOD SCIENCE
Dr. Md Elias Uddin
University of Connecticut


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Enteric methane, manure, and feed production related greenhouse gas (GHG) are the three major sources of GHG emissions from dairy production systems. A mitigation strategy would be adopted by the producers if it is viable (i.e., the strategy can reduce environmental footprint while improving economic performance or profit). Most GHG mitigation strategies developed and investigated until now focus on the environmental sustainability while overlooking economic performance of a dairy production system. Several past simulation studies indicated tradeoff between economic and environmental sustainability of a dairy production system. However, a very few recent studies suggested synergy between GHG emissions intensity (i.e., carbon footprint) and economic performances rather than a trade-off between two sustainability indicators. This synergy was determined by the productivity of animals and feeding practices. Thus, we hypothesized that the relationship between carbon footprint and profitability will depend on production system and feeding management scenarios of the animals. Thus, our approach will include the collection of on-farm data from 30 farms (details in support letter) representing the production system of the chosen geographic region (South Dakota, Iowa & Minnesota). Type of data collected will include farm-size, herd structure, dietary ingredients and chemical composition, milk production, milk composition, manure yield and composition, collection, processing, storage and application of manure, feed ingredients produced and purchased, electricity, fossil fuels and fertilizers, dairy and non-dairy revenues and expenses etc. Then, we will build a cradle-to-farmgate model using life cycle assessment (LCA) tool with SimaPro software to determine carbon footprint for milk for the existed production systems under different dietary scenarios. Farm profitability on a per cow or per farm basis will be calculated for each production system including their management scenarios. The relationship between environmental and economic performances will provide the indication of which production and management scenario will be viable. Additionally, we anticipate creating an easy to use by the producers assessment tool (testing scale) to evaluate their own scenarios as well as future potential mitigation scenarios. The expected project findings will help dairy farmers/producers to identify and evaluate a production system and dietary management scenario that will be both economically profitable and environmentally friendly.

Project objectives from proposal:

Objectives: Our objectives are to i) determine the carbon footprint and economic performances including their relationship of existing dairy production systems in North-Central region under varying production & dietary scenarios and ii) create an online tool that could be used by the producers to assess the sustainability of their own farm.

Audiences: Audiences will include dairy producers (small, medium, and large farm), graduate students, researchers, conference attendees and industry stakeholder.

Learning outcomes: Students will learn the life cycle assessment modeling tool while other audiences will understand the relationship between environmental footprint and farm economic performances including potential tradeoff or synergy.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.