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Demand for grass-based dairy production, which relies heavily on grazing and use of forage crops, is growing in the United States, primarily due to reported human health benefits of the milk produced as well as perceived environmental and animal welfare benefits. We used a whole-farm model to evaluate environmental footprints of all-grass, grass supplemented with grain, and confinement dairy production systems in the temperate climate of the northeastern U.S. Model results were depicted per unit of farmland and per unit of milk produced to provide alternate perspectives from the viewpoint of land management and commodity production.

These data indicate that grass-based dairy farms can provide environmental benefits to a local watershed, but due to a lower efficiency in milk production, they may increase the aggregate environmental impacts of regional and global supply chains.

Download the article for a full explanation of our methods and findings. 

This study was conducted in collaboration with USDA / Agricultural Research Service and findings were published in Agricultural Systems in September 2020.