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Dairy’s Use of Water 5X More Efficient Than in 1960

February 25, 2020


Jim Dickrell

The U.S. dairy industry’s use of water to produce milk is roughly five times more efficient than it was in 1960, according to research conducted at Nebraska’s Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute.


The research analyzed water use and livestock productivity between 1960 and 2016. Overall, annual water investments in U.S. livestock dropped by 36%. Dairy led the way, being five times more efficient. Pork was next, at nearly 4X; poultry, 3X, and beef, about double.


The improvement in water use efficiency likely came from a combination of selective breeding, genetic engineering and supplements which generally resulted in more food being produced per animal, says Mesfin Mekonnen, the study’s lead author.


Further improvements in water use efficiency could come from diets using more distillers’ grains, he says. Mekonnen estimates dairy could improve water productivity another 20% by their use, pork, by more than 10%, and beef and poultry, but about 5%. And because distillers’ grains typically contain more protein than the corn and soybeans it would replace, feed efficiency might improve as well.


“[This] creates the awareness that we need to look at the full supply chain when we talk about livestock or other products—from feed production to the final output,” he says. “We cannot say, ‘This is enough.’ There is a need to keep on improving.”


milkbusiness.com