Nestlé pledges $10 mil., becomes DMI’s first Net Zero ‘legacy partner to transform dairy’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 23, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – On October 9, Dairy Management Inc (DMI) and Nestlé made big announcements. DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy officially unveiled the Net Zero Initiative it calls “an industry-wide effort” to meet 2050 goals for carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality.

On a DMI media call last week, Innovation Center chairman Mike Haddad and others discussed the Net Zero Initiative and the simultaneous announcement of a $10 million commitment and multi-year partnership by Nestlé to support the “scaling” of “access” to environmental practices and resources on farms across the country.

As clarified by Karen Scanlon, senior vice president of sustainability initiatives for DMI, this investment by Nestlé will have a “farm and field focus” and represents a five-year partnership.

Haddad suggested that other companies are looking to invest, including companies from the financial and technology sectors.

Although the press statements talk about the Net Zero Initiative (NZI) as supporting “access” for all farms of all sizes and geographies to meet the industry’s 2050 climate and environmental goals, the details are still sketchy in how this all will translate at diverse farm and industry sector levels.

California dairy producer and DMI vice president Steve Maddox noted that when times are good and producers have a good margin, they like to experiment and invest and test new ideas. He acknowledged that it’s “hard to go green when you’re in the red.”

Maddox said for 2050 goals to be met, technologies and practices have to positively impact the dairy’s bottom-line.

Krysta Harden, executive vice president of global environmental strategies for DMI and former undersecretary of agriculture under Tom Vilsack, noted that the Net Zero Initiative helps with this “affordability.” NZI will identify the pilot farms and test the ideas, the technologies and practices on those farms to show what pays.

She said Nestlé’s $10 million investment make “Nestlé our first legacy partner to come on board to really transform dairy.”

Harden explained that the funds will be used in three key areas: Foundational resources, new products (clarified as manure products), and on-farm practices.

Haddad noted that the financial and tech sectors are reaching out also, and Nestlé has pledged its expertise as well as the financial investment.

“We need capital and technology to do this,” he said. “We also need the experience and expertise of others. We believe Nestlé’s commitment is huge and hope it is the first of several.”

While the nuts and bolts are not clear, it does appear that investments, such as the $10 million from Nestlé, will help pay for the testing and development of technologies and practices on pilot farms.

What happens around that piece is called “scaling up” and “providing access” and “improving profitability,” but without a disclosed road map of how that ‘scaling’ will look to the rest of the non-pilot farms in the U.S.

“We are already talking to pilot farms,” Harden acknowledged. “We like to say that every farmer can do something, and they are already doing a lot. We talk about this at DMI board meetings to see where we are at, and the hands go up, we see that our farmers are already working on the list of things. They are already committed.”

Scanlon gave a little bit of a road map when she noted that there are three “buckets” that the Net Zero Initiative will need investment in order to address the barriers to meeting the 2050 goals:

1) Data and research gaps, the need for more dairy research with quantifiable outcomes,

2) Affordability, the need for economically viable technology and practice solutions so that farmers can make the choices that drive industry success, and

3) Accessibility, to reach scale across the diverse industry in terms of dairy size and geography, to enable farms of all sizes to access the technology and have the support to implement it successfully.

Harden explained there is “no one solution,” that technologies and practices will have to be “adapted” and “make sense.”

She listed the four areas Net Zero practices and technologies are divided into: 1) Feed production, 2) Manure handling and nutrient management, 3) Cow care and production efficiency, and 4) On-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy

According to Harden, “Net Zero is already possible on certain farms. The purpose of NZI is to expand our knowledge and adoption of policies to reduce GHG and water use.”

A bit of history

Haddad, chairman of Schreiber Foods, has been chairman of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for two years and a member for 10. 

He explained how the Innovation Center got started first as a “globalization initiative” followed by safety and social responsibility initiatives, but that “sustainability” was one of its main active committees from the start in 2008. Haddad said that the Sustainability Committee has operated 12 years under the continuing leadership of its chairman Dr. Mike McCloskey of Select, Fair Oaks and Fairlife.

“The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was created by DMI (in 2008-09) at the urging of farmers,” said Haddad. 

“DMI wanted to bring together a forum of many stakeholders — dairy farmers, processors, NGOs (like WWF), retailers and foodservice — to function as a voluntary board. Farmers wanted to be connected at the middle level to collaborate with those that sell milk and milk products,” Haddad related.

Today, 27 companies have representation on this board, and over 300 companies are “engaged in the journey, along with our shoppers, citizens and neighbors around the world,” he said.

Globalization first initiative

“It started initially with a globalization initiative,” Haddad explained, adding that even though the current talk in the industry since Covid is about “re-shoring” and local, “we do not exist in an island,” he said.

According to Haddad, the original globalization initiative of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy back in 2008-09 started with the Bain Study. Back then, the Bain Study was touted as showing opportunities for trade.

However, Haddad said Wednesday that the Bain Study — as part of the original Innovation Center globalization initiative — “showed us that we could be informed and enlightened together and raise all boats together pre-competitively.

“The globalization study showed we need to go together. This got into our blood that we can work together on certain platforms and go farther, together than we can go alone,” he said.

By 2015-16, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy had evolved into a “social responsibility platform,” and Haddad said food safety was among the next pieces. Once the industry could see how to collaborate on food safety, the “pre-competitive” techniques were applied to animal care and sustainability.

In other words, the members of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy wanted the industry to first “go together” toward globalization, then food safety, now animal care, for which FARM is the driver, and sustainability, for which Net Zero Initiative is the driver.

“We don’t want to compete with each other in these areas,” said Haddad. “We should only compete on the attributes of our products. We should not be saying ‘mine is safer than yours’ (or more sustainable than yours), because that undermines confidence and trust in dairy.”

Haddad explained that the Innovation Center works closely with National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Part two continues next week in Farmshine.

DMI integrates the dairy industry through its unified marketing plan and the various nonprofit organizations, alliances, committees and initiatives — beginning with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The IC was formed in 2008-09, launching the industry’s structural drivers beginning with the globalization initiative (Bain Study 2008), then social responsibility (FARM program 2015) and now ‘sustainability’ (Net Zero Initiative 2020). Graphic by Sherry Bunting, source USdairy.com