University of Wisconsin-Madison

Defending Dairy: Connecting expertise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions


  • Dairy production is one of many contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.


  • Develop strategies in the dairy production process to reduce emissions and maintain water and soil quality. 

How can diverse viewpoints and expertise help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

Through multi- and trans-disciplinary research, this project connects animal scientists, agronomists, soil scientists, climatologists, engineers, systems scientists, economists, and others with a goal to understand each other’s perspective. The team analyzes different parts of the dairy production system and identifies important gaps in the current science. This approach has led to impactful insights. For example, modeling and life cycle assessment efforts led to identification of best management practices to reduce GHG, while also improving water quality and farm profitability.

The dairy industry is committed to reducing GHGs associated with milk production. This includes examining areas such as cow management, manure management, and soil management to determine where the greatest opportunities are to reduce GHG as well as potential tradeoffs with other environmental losses.

The researchers learned that if farmers implemented best management practices worldwide to reduce GHG emissions, it would reduce impacts from climate change globally. Such practices include anaerobic digestion of manure (converting methane to less potent carbon dioxide), liquid-solid separation of manure, and using a manure storage cover. Producing milk more efficiently will lead to a reduction in GHG, a reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, and an increase in profitability.

The team also includes Penn State, Cornell University, University of Arkansas, University of Michigan, University of Maryland, University of Washington, USDA, and the Innovation Center for US Dairy. Through USDA NIFA, producers and scientists are working together to sustainably produce food, protect the environment, and create win-win solutions.

I study nutrient cycling and soil health across different agroecosystems. Maintaining and enhancing soil health is essential for the success of civilizations and to achieve food security on this planet. Research to improve soil is a long-term and vital investment.”
– Matt Ruark 


  • Matthew Ruark, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Molly Jahn, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Michel Wattiaux, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Becky Larson, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Mark Powell, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Ken Genskow, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Mark Stephenson, PhD, UW-Madison
  • Doug Reinemann, PhD, UW-Madison


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