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Farm Smart Management System

Sustainability Assessment and Mitigation Tools for U.S. Dairy Producer

Project Timeline: 2011 - 2014

The Farm Smart management system with its suite of tools and resources aims to help dairy producers to take specific actions on their farm and report quantifiable results. It does so by allowing producers to:

  • Assess their environmental footprint for the whole farm or specific fields.
  • Measure their current environmental footprint and benchmark for future changes.
  • Mitigate their current impact and develop a plan for continuous improvement.
  • Communicate their success throughout the value chain and to the community.
  • Maintain and anticipate changes in local, state and federal environmental regulations.

Central to Farm Smart is the development of the Decision Support tool, which is currently being tested. Ultimately, the Decision Support tool aims to give producers easy access to geographically specific, real-time data. By using the geographic information system (GIS), Farm Smart allows producers to visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data specific to land and soil type to reveal their farm’s unique relationships, patterns and trends. This decision-support information allows them to model different production practices to determine which ones will deliver the most environmental benefits while increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

Farm Smart is unique among sustainability programs because it:

  • Integrates science and real-world data to provide producers with opportunities to implement best practices that make a difference to their economic bottom line and environmental footprint.
  • Incorporates producer testing to ensure it provides valuable insights to improve their decision-making on production management.
  • Delivers value throughout the grass-to-glass chain by offering a way to objectively assess the environmental impact of dairy foods and beverages.

For generations U.S. dairy producers have prided themselves in producing fresh, wholesome milk and milk products while being responsible community members and good stewards of the land.

With this heritage in mind, the industry is working together to meet consumers’ evolving needs while addressing  the increased pressure of limited resources, environmental constraints, rising population, and a changing climate. For example, in 2009 the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® – which includes organizations from across the dairy value chain – committed to a voluntary, industrywide goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for fluid milk by 25percent by 2020.

A portfolio of projects to achieve this goal is already underway across the value chain. On the dairy farm, there are opportunities to identify and adopt best management practices that improve on-farm resource management, reduce costs, and deliver positive economic, environmental, and social results. The challenge, however, is that no two farms are the same. Each dairy farm is unique with different climate, soil quality, size, financial capabilities, watershed location, and regulatory requirements. Clearly, no single management strategy will work for every farm; consequently, dairy producers require sustainable solutions that are unique as their farms are.

In the meantime, retail customers and consumers increasingly request quantified information on the environmental impact of the products they purchase. Several supplier and product scorecards to communicate environmental performance are in development. But because they are being created outside of the dairy industry, they may neither capture the ever-changing dynamics of dairy farms nor communicate sufficient information that is useful to producers.

These realities highlight the need for customizable decision support tools that allow producers to: assess their farm’s unique conditions to make environmentally- and economically-sound farm management decisions, and track and report their progress. Such a system can allow the industry to advocate for intelligent use of information that places incentives in the right places to achieve the best stewardship.

Recognizing these needs, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is developing the Farm Smart™ management system to assist dairy producer decision makers. Farm Smart software will integrate financial data and field forecasting with the latest advances in farm-specific, process-based environmental modeling and best management practices to create a software tool for dairy. It will allow them to:  assess, measure, and mitigate their environmental footprint, track their progress, plan for future improvements, and communicate this to customers, community members, and other stakeholders.

Project Summary

Farm Smart™ is an innovative, integrated online management system that empowers continuous environmental, social and economic improvement for dairy producers. Its science- and practice-based resources and tools help producers reduce their environmental footprint while identifying new sources of cost savings and revenue. It also delivers benefits throughout the grass-to-glass value chain to dairy processors, retail distributors and consumers.

Successes & Challenges

1. Farm Energy Efficiency:  funding from USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Services (NRCS), the Farm Energy Efficiency project launched the SaveEnergy web resource to promote benefits and opportunities associated with reducing energy use and costs. Energy efficiency provides dairy producers with a simple first step toward reducing GHG emissions, energy use and associated costs. In 2011, through this resource and communication outreach, the Innovation Center accounted for 310 energy audits, 159 of which were funded through the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

2. Science and Producer Insights:  The Innovation Center gained important producer insight for guiding the development of Farm Smart. With a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, Phase 1 of the Farm Smart project demonstrated producer interest in integrating site-specific biogeochemical models (i.e. DeNitrification-DeComposition or DNDC computer simulation model of carbon and nitrogen biogeochemistry in agro-ecosystems), local hydrology data, and life cycle impact assessment models for improved environmental impact analysis of dairy farms. The development of the modeling framework consisted of two components, i.e., modifications of DNDC to make it suitable to the proposed goal and integration of the modified DNDC with hydrological models.

3. Environmental Calculator: Using data from the GHG Life Cycle Assessment for Fluid Milk, the Farm Smart™ Environmental Calculator, available at Smart, provides dairy producers with a snapshot of their dairy farm’s environmental footprint. Data from 540 dairy farms was used as a baseline measurement for producers to evaluate greenhouse gas; water and energy use against regional and national averages, and communicate their progress to stakeholders. 

4. Real-Time Opportunities Ahead: Ultimately, the growth and development of the Farm Smart ™ Decision Support tool will give producers easy access to geographically specific, real-time data that allows them to forecast the financial and environmental outcomes of different production management practices on their dairy facility and their fields.

If you have any comments or questions regarding this CIG project please contact C-AGG or the project contact listed on this page.  We look forward to hearing from you.


Farm Smart will enhance our capacity to tell our story and to improve our operation. My biggest fear is sharing bad information, and projects like this will help to get the right information
Karl Klessig, dairy producer, Saxon Farms

This tool could serve as a vitally important decision-making tool for dairy farms of all sizes and scale. At its core, the Farm Smart? tool must be absolutely economic-driven. It becomes useful in that it connects the P&L; information with the economic variables that most impact return on investment. What?s interesting is this program looks at inputs as variables. Right now, producers are managing P&L; based on bills. This links the two.
Ryan Anglin, dairy producer, Triple A Farms

Farm Smart is meant to fully illuminate the consequences of the choices we make within the farming system. It will allow us to connect actions taken in one zone of the farming operation to consequences, both obvious and less obvious, in others. That?s what?s really powerful about it, and that?s what people like me are really advocating for. To our knowledge, there are not a lot of systems, maybe not any systems that are expected to be as sophisticated and comprehensive as Farm Smart.
Dr. Molly Jahn, Special Advisor for Sustainability Science, University of Madison-Wisconsin



Project Partners

  • • The Farm Smart management system of software and resources is being guided by a Technical Working Group and Advisory Committee that includes producers, processors, cooperatives and academic and industry experts.

    • Primary support is coming from U.S. Dairy, USDA, Walton Family Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In addition, this project has received tremendous support from numerous valued stakeholders including the Sustainability Council, Manomet Center for Conservation Services, Advisory committee members, Quantis, University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center, and the University of Michigan.

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