Collaborative Agriculture: Working Together for a Sustainable Tomorrow

In the face of escalating environmental concerns and a growing global population, the imperative for making progress toward achieving greenhouse gas neutrality and developing a food supply that is affordable, accessible and nourishing has never been more urgent.

To make such progress, collaboration across agricultural sectors is critical.

Learnings from Idaho and Utah RDN’s 2023 survey insights confirmed:

  • 89% are concerned about the state of the environment.
  • 66% feel that sustainability is at least moderately within their scope of work.
  • 85% are making dietary changes to lessen their impact on the environment and recommending sustainability practices to their patients and clients.
  • 86% believe that dairy products contribute to a sustainable food system.

Dairy West is committed to delivering sustainability information to Utah and Idaho’s RDN’s, contributing to their proficiency and providing information relative to their interests.

Our first delivery included a “Collaborative Agriculture Conversation” at both Idaho and Utah Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Annual Meetings in April 2024. The dietitian attendees heard from agriculture experts representing a variety of foods who discussed their historic and ongoing commitment to conservation, innovations and practices leveraged to ensure sustainable food production. Marissa Watson, vice president of sustainability at Dairy West, facilitated the discussion to share valuable perspectives and practical information that will now be shared with their communities as these dietitians navigate food system and sustainability conversations.

Each farmer closed the session by sharing one thing they wanted dietitians to keep in mind while navigating client conversations:

  1. Farmers have nothing to hide. They love to open their farms and host consumer tours anytime!
  2. Farmers would never do anything to harm people, land or resources. Farmers work hard to leave the farm better than how they found it, oftentimes to pass on to future generations.
  3. If a farm goes out of business, it cannot be sustainable – it is in the farmer’s best interest to take care of the land, animals and resources in their care.
  4. Support local farms and purchase local.
  5. We are all in this together! The more we work together and provide education alongside each other, we empower consumers to make informed, confident and competent decisions!

Sustainability is increasingly influencing purchase behavior, and the sustainability-concerned population is growing. Though the social aspects of sustainability are gaining traction, environmental sustainability messaging is predominant in food marketing to consumers.

It is important to recognize and understand the four dimensions of sustainability – environment, health, social and economic factors that contribute to sustainable food production. Excitingly, 86% of Idaho and Utah RDNs recognize all dimensions of sustainable nutrition and view sustainability holistically.

Let’s learn more about dairy foods and their unique contribution to sustainable food systems as we dive deeper into each of the four dimensions –


  • Farmers implement efficient irrigation systems and water conservation techniques to reduce water usage and ensure sustainable water management.
  • Practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping and reduce tillage are employed to maintain and improve soil health, critical for long-term sustainability.
  • The US dairy industry is responsible for just 2% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. A 2020 study by researchers at Virginia Tech and the U.S. Department of Agriculture looked at the environmental impact if dairy cows were to be removed from agriculture. Their findings suggest that if dairy cows were removed from the U.S., greenhouse gas emissions would drop by just 0.7%, while significantly reducing the affordable supply of various essential nutrients needed for human health, like calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. To fill those nutrient gaps, we would need to produce several other foods that generate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It is common for farmers to repurpose leftover plant material inedible for humas as nutritious feed for cows. If taken to a landfill, these crop “byproducts” would emit significantly more methane than if consumed by cows. Cows can incredibly transform nutritious plants that are indigestible to humans into high-quality milk protein.
  • Some farmers have chosen to partner with energy companies, adding their manure to an anaerobic digester to produce renewable energy.
  • On a dairy farm, water is reused on average 3-5 times for tasks like cooling milk and cleaning stalls before finally being applied to fields as irrigation water.
  • From 2007 to 2017, producing a gallon of milk required 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint. Dairy farmers continue to adopt new practices that inspire industry-wide innovation, ensuring progress toward achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050.


  • Farmers focus on growing nutrient-rich foods that are vital for health. Nutrient-dense foods provide essential nutrients including protein, vitamins, minerals and more which contribute to overall health.
  • Dairy foods provide several essential nutrients, including three of the four nutrients most often lacking in Americans’ diets – calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
  • Dairy foods offer 7 of the 14 nutrients that the American Academy of Pediatric recognizes as key for early-childhood brain development: protein, zinc, choline, selenium, iodine, and vitamins A and B12.
  • Dairy helps sustain our health. Dairy products provide more than half of our nation’s daily calcium and vitamin D intake and 18% of our daily protein needs. As an affordable source of key nutrients, dairy is a sustainable choice for families at all income levels.


  • Less than 2% of America’s population are farmers, feeding the other 98% of us.
  • Farms often host educational programs and workshops to teach people about sustainable farming practices, nutrition and the importance of collaborative agriculture.


  • Farms boost local economies, create jobs and support other local businesses.
  • There is a need for all sizes and types of farms in a sustainable food system. In the U.S., 97% of dairy farms are family owned and operated, often by multiple generations.
  • Local options are readily available for nearly every type of dairy food. Milk makes it from farm to grocery store in just about 48 hours.

Stay connected as Dairy West continues to bring more sustainability information to our audiences. Contact Jaclyn St. John or Marissa Watson with questions or to explore partnership opportunities.



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