The Gleaner

Can milk be carbon-neutral?

Often singled out as a source of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the agriculture sector is mobilizing to reduce its carbon footprint, most notably through a new living laboratory initiative.

Financed through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with a budget of up to $7 million, the Living Lab – Carbon-Neutral Milk project, which is managed by the Novalait group in Quebec, aims to develop knowledge and improve practices with the goal of attaining carbon neutrality.

Twenty farms in four regions of Quebec have been selected to participate in the project, which brings together partners, scientific researchers, and producers, including the Ferme Tolhurst dairy farm in Howick.

“The ultimate goal is to develop best practices that other farms across the country can apply to their situations,” said Amy Tolhurst, whose farm has been enrolled in the project for a period of five years. Researchers will be asked to conduct three GHG assessments on her farm, during years one, three, and five, to track the farm’s progress following the adoption of new practices, with the year 2022 as the starting point.

Tolhurst said it was a deep sense of stewardship that drove the team behind Tolhurst Farm to come up with the necessary resources to participate in the project. “Guardianship of the environment has always been a priority here,” she explained. “Carbon impact is still something that we need to learn more about. Two of our children went through the farm management DEC course and, of course, that has helped bring things to the priority list. Getting fresh information and clarifying the impact are major motivators to do better.”


Ferme Tolhurst in Howick is one of 20 farms selected to participate in the Living Lab Carbon Neutral Milk project which aims to better understand the different sources of greenhouse gases on dairy farms and develop best practices to reduce them PHOTO Phil Duval Baillargeon


For the Producteurs de lait du Québec, the living laboratory is part of an overall strategy to achieve carbon-neutral on-farm dairy production by 2050.

“We are determined to be at the forefront of best practices, which is why we have adopted an ambitious sustainable development plan and are working to develop structuring projects,” said Daniel Gobeil, the president of the Producteurs de lait du Québec, following the funding announcement for the project in July 2023.

For her part, Tolhurst recognizes the challenge posed by the fight against climate change in agriculture, and the importance of taking action.

“Cattle are a major contributor to methane gas. We need to determine what we need to do to reduce this issue,” said Tolhurst. “We cannot do it alone; we need partners that have ideas and can support us with coaching. The longevity of our farm depends on best practices,” she added.

“The ability of our country to consume the best quality food products relies on farmers to do their job proactively and with pride.”

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