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​Andy Whitman

Director, Sustainable Economies Program

Project Overview

The global demand for dairy products continues to grow at breakneck speed.  Although highly efficient, the contribution of U.S. dairy farms to meeting this demand adds to pressures on natural resources, including farmland needed for feed production, and impacts on water quality, climate, and soil. Hence, retailers are asking dairy farmers to do more to ensure that dairy products are sustainably produced.   Manomet’s partnership with Cabot Creamery and other stakeholders helps dairy farmers measure and communicate about their sustainability to address supply chains requirements and improve the sustainability of their farms.

Working with the Innovation Center for Dairy and Cabot Creamery, Manomet embarked on the Vital Capital Index for Dairy Agriculture (VCI) by listening to dairy farmers from Cabot Creamery and around the U.S. about how they define sustainability.  We broadened the conversation to include other stakeholders from local communities and across the U.S.  VCI indicators were developed based on this stakeholder input, published scientific research, and other agriculture sustainability frameworks to align to the best science and practices.  VCI v 1.0 was beta tested with 30 farmers across the U.S. and v 2.0 and v 3.0 has been was field tested with farmers from Cabot Creamery.  With Cabot Creamery’s assistance, v 4.0 also incorporates the sustainability questions from the supply chain.

The result is that the VCI is a tool that assesses the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of farms. Using four levels of indicators, the VCI helps farmers assess their level of sustainability awareness, their practices, level of performance, and context-based sustainability metrics.  Dairy farmers already know a lot about sustainability. The VCI helps them assess their entire operation and consider how they might improve their operations.  It also helps them to share their sustainability story with neighbors, and customers.   The VCI has successfully helped dairy farmers meet supply chain requirements; build their awareness and engagement on sustainability; create a model for continuous improvement; and supported the connection between farmers and consumers. For Cabot Creamery, the VCI helps assure supply chains and help their farmers manage societal concerns about dairy agriculture.