The dairy industry was well represented and I took the opportunity to talk with a representative from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Laura Mandell serves as the Vice President in Sustainability Communications, she shared with me how the U.S. dairy industry is working to increase the industry’s contributions to healthy people, healthy products and a healthy planet.
“When we think about sustainability the dairy producers define it as the ability to provide consumers with the nutritious products – dairy food & beverages – that they’ve come to enjoy in a way that they can ensure it is produced responsibly. Sustainability really means stewardship dairy farmers have a long heritage of providing, ensuring that they perserve their farm for future generations. That they are minimizing the impact on the environment, but also assuring that their farm is profitable as well. And the third piece of that is contributing to the growth and the viability to the communities in which producers work and live.”
On-farm energy efficiency is also a top priority for the Innovation Center. Tools, resources and financial assistance are now available to help dairy producers reduce energy and costs. If you are interested in finding out what you can do on your own farm, contact your local NRCS office and ask about EQIP.
On November 1, 2012, Pulse Opinion Research conducted a telephone survey of 319 farmers and ranchers who are likely voters. Questions covered the presidential election, farm bill priorities, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s job performance rating, the Renewable Fuels Standard, and other topics.
The telephone survey found that 71 percent of respondents strongly disapprove of President Obama’s job performance while 12 percent strongly approve. Of all farmers polled, 51 percent labeled themselves Republican, 26 percent Democrat.
It may not be surprising that 92 percent of self-identified Republican respondents picked Romney as their presidential vote, but more than half (53 percent) of the self-identified Democrat respondents also picked Romney. Additionally, 74 percent of farmers who identified themselves as “other” in party affiliation expressed preference for Romney.
Asked whether Republicans or Democrats are to blame for the failure to pass a new farm bill, 46 percent answered Democrats while 28 percent said both parties are equally responsible. Nineteen percent blamed Republicans. Interestingly, 35 percent of self-identified Democrats blamed their own party, while only 7 percent of self-identified Republicans blamed theirs.
When it came to identifying the biggest threats to the future of their farming operations, environmental regulations came out on top with 33%, with tax burdens next at 29%. The third biggest threat identified is “activist groups who oppose modern farming methods” at 16 percent.
Posted: January 20, 2012 at 10:43 am
By Cindy Zimmerman
California dairy families are proud of the sustainability accomplishments they achieved in 2011.
According to the California dairy farming sustainability coalition Dairy Cares, the state’s dairy industry continued its commitment last year to protect and improve the environment.
Central Valley dairy farmers launched the nation’s largest dairy groundwater monitoring program, a non-profit, collaborative scientific effort to assure that dairy farming practices are protective of California’s precious groundwater resources. Dairy farmers will invest several million dollars in this effort over the next several years. California dairy farmers are already utilizing improved management practices to grow crops in balance with nature and protect groundwater, and results from groundwater monitoring will be used to develop improved management practices where needed and encourage their use.
Meanwhile, dairy farmers continued to do their part in 2011 to reduce air emissions and improve air quality in California’s Central Valley. Dairy farmers across the valley have adopted management practices to reduce emissions by more than 25 percent, while dairy industry organizations continue to invest in cutting-edge research toward cleaner air. Dairy farmers will also continue their efforts to convert manure biogas to clean, green, renewable energy (cow power), building on the accomplishments of pioneering dairy farmers over the past decade.
Posted: August 16, 2011 at 6:49 pm
By Cindy Zimmerman
One of the stops on the 2011 CTIC Conservation In Action Tour in northwest Ohio last week was Bridgewater Dairy in Montpelier, where tour participants heard from owner Dr. Leon Weaver about the conservation practices they use to protect water quality in this area so close to Lake Erie.
“We explained the operation of our large dairy farm where we milk about 3,000 cows and how we house and care for the animals to maximize their health and productivity and also make them comfortable,” Weaver said. “And then how we protect the environment through the treatment of our manure in an anaerobic digester and the nutrient balance of our fields to produce crops to feed back to our cows.”
Weaver says they try to recycle as much as possible on the operation. “For example, water gets used a minimum of three times,” he said. “First to cool our milk, second to irrigate our crops, and third to wash something.” In addition, the manure which is used to produce electricity and fertilizer is also used to make cow bedding. “When the manure comes out of the digester, it’s nearly bacteria-free. We press the solids out to create something that feels and looks about like peat moss and we put that back in as bedding for the cows.”
A family owned business, Bridgewater Dairy includes three separate entities – Bridgewater Dairy LLC, Bridgewater Farming LLC, and Oakshade Dairy LLC. Together the operations milk 4200 Holstein Dairy Cows and farm over 4000 acres of ground in Northwest Ohio. Find out more about them on BridgewaterDairy.com and listen to or download my interview with Leon here: Dr. Leon Weaver on CTIC Tour
Last week the Conservation Technology Information Center conducted a field tour as part of their Indian Creek Watershed Project in Livingston County, IL. This project is funded in part by the Illinois EPA and other stakeholders. I participated and was pleasantly surprised to find a dairy farm on the tour!
We visited Kilgus Dairy. The family dairy farm is the only one in the state bottling their own milk. They also grow corn and soybeans and have land for the cows to graze on. They move those cows periodically, allowing the paddocks to grow back. In the picture you can see Matt Kilgus showing our group how to pour our own ice cream in the on-farm dairy products store, Kilgus Homestead.
Matt says they started the grazing system which got them involved with watershed management. Matt’s uncle was on the steering committee for the CTIC project so they’re conducting several tests and programs, including the use of different types of cover crops. He says that they hope to see some results that will benefit them while also becoming better stewards of the land.
Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University, Assistant Professor of Dairy Sciences (pictured on the left) is a myth buster. At the Alltech International Symposium she took on the myths about the carbon footprint of modern dairy production. Her presentation was titled, “Managing the media myth: What is the truth behind the carbon footprint of modern dairy production? Things you should know.” I spoke with her to find out what we should know.
Jude says that the main takeaway from her remarks is “If we improve productivity, we cut land use, we cut water use, we cut fertilizer and fossil fuel use and we cut the total carbon footprint.” Now how often have you heard modern dairy production portrayed in that light? But that’s the truth and a story that needs to be told. Compared to 1944 the carbon footprint of a pound of milk has decreased by 63 percent! She says we still have a lot of room for improvement too. Her research has focused on American dairy production but she says that this same trend is happening in countries around the world. I am glad we had her on the program! Dr. Jude Capper Interview
You can find more information about her research on the WSU website.
The study used the Integrated Farm System Model, a computer program that simulates the major biological and physical processes and interactions of a crop, beef or dairy farm. The scientists collected a range of field data on grazing systems, manure management and their effects on nutrient loss to the environment. Then they used their farm model, supported by the field data, to evaluate the environmental dynamics of four different dairy farms in all types of weather over 25 years.
The model generated estimates for ammonia emissions from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, soil erosion and phosphorus losses from field runoff. Estimates for emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from both primary production and the secondary production of pesticides, fuels, electricity and other resources were also considered.
Compared to high confinement systems, keeping dairy cows outdoors all year lowered levels of ammonia emission by about 30 percent. The model results also indicated that the total emissions for the greenhouse gases methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were eight percent lower in a year-round outdoor production system than in a high-production confinement system.
Adding a solar power system can give dairy operations a double-benefit. Solar can reduce you utility bills while at the same time helping your business become more sustainable. One dairy farm in Hanford, California has added a 891 kilowatt solar energy system designed and constructed by SPG Solar. It is comprised of 3,240 Suntech solar modules and two Solaron inverters. It is estimated that the system will generate more than 1.7 megawatt hours annually – enough to offset the dairy’s utility power usage by at least 75 percent.
The dairy installed a new solar energy system to power its milking barn and other dairy operations. The family-owned dairy has 7,000 head of cattle and a custom farming business. I don’t know about you but I’m thinking a California cow is a happy cow!
“The recent volatility of milk prices has underscored the importance of hedging our input costs,” said Mike Monteiro, the dairy’s owner. “The solar energy system will help us fix our energy costs and hedge against long term increases in utility power rates.”
The solar system spans four-acres and is robust enough to power Lakeside’s entire dairy operation including an 11,000 square foot milking barn, heifer corral lighting and fans, manure separator equipment and well and irrigation equipment. This is just one effort engaged by the diary operation to become more sustainable. The farm’s manure-handling equipment removes nearly 50 tons of solid manure a day, thus preventing it from going into the lagoon or giving off gases from decomposition.
“Lakeside Dairy continues to show its commitment to solar that positively impacts their operations today, reducing future electricity costs and investing in the community through the creation of green jobs,” said CEO and President of SPG Solar, Chris Robine. “They are laying out a long-term strategy towards the sustainable production and quality of food produced.”
Rabobank provided the construction and term financing for the solar project and will work with Lakeside to help them manage their finances as they pay off the loan. Gianluca Signorelli, Vice President of Renewable Energy Finance for Rabobank added, “By combining the savings from lower utility power bills with federal and state incentives, Rabobank structured the term loan to potentially be cash flow positive throughout the lifetime of the loan. Once the loan is repaid, the solar system is likely to create even larger savings for Lakeside Dairy.”
“Whether it is in our plants, on the road or on member farms, we are working to ensure that DFA and our members’ legacies last for generations,” said David Darr, vice president of sustainability and public affairs. “This includes efforts in the areas of energy usage, transportation and animal care and wellness.”
The assessment found that DFA’s 21 wholly owned plants have completed or are planning 150 projects with a sustainability focus, from instituting new wastewater treatment programs to upgrading lighting systems. In addition, all five of DFA’s contract manufacturing plants have committed to the Energy Star Challenge, with a goal to reduce energy intensity by 10 percent or more within five years.
DFA also determined that average fuel efficiency among DFA’s transportation fleet increased over nine percent from 2009 to 2010. Adding larger-capacity milk trucks in some areas is also helping to increase efficiency.
On the farm level, over 30 DFA member farms conducted energy efficiency audits during 2010 in partnership with DFA’s Dairy Energy Services (DES) which identified an average annual savings of 31,922 kilowatt per dairy, for an average cost savings of $3,494. DES is also conducting wind and solar power assessments for member farms.
Posted: January 11, 2011 at 9:27 am
By Cindy Zimmerman
American agriculture has a great story to tell of increasing productivity while at the same time decreasing its environmental footprint.
A Town Hall Forum held Saturday at AG CONNECT Expo in Atlanta focused on “The Shrinking Environmental Footprint of Agriculture” and offered some great information about dairy farming in the United States.
Dr. Jude Capper of Washington State University, a livestock carbon footprint expert, talked about the importance of looking at the footprint in terms of the production, not the animal. “Compared to 1944, now we have bigger cows, they eat more feed, but they also give more milk, so milk yield per cow has increase four fold since 1944,” she explains. “We’ve cut cow numbers by 60 percent, but we also make 59 percent more milk, so that cut the total carbon footprint per gallon of milk, which is huge.”
Dr. Capper adds that milk production has improved in all environmental areas. “Compared to 1944, to make one gallon of milk now, we only need 21% of the animals, 24% of the feed, 10% of the land, 35% of the water – a huge decrease in total carbon footprint,” she says. And she believes it can continue to improve.
Posted: December 15, 2010 at 10:27 am
By Cindy Zimmerman
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today commemorated the one year anniversary of the agreement to help U.S. dairy producers cut greenhouse gas emissions that was signed on this date during climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark last year.
“The partnership between USDA and U.S. dairy producers to increase sustainability has achieved remarkable results over the past year,” said Vilsack. “USDA has awarded funding to establish 30 anaerobic digesters, and we are assisting farmers with digester feasibility studies and energy audits to help producers reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing on-farm income. The partnership is a demonstration of the Obama Administration’s commitment to producing renewable energy, providing new economic opportunities to farmers, and preserving natural resources.”
On December 15, 2009, USDA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy signed a sustainability-focused Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work in concert to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by 25 percent by 2020. Since the signing, USDA and the Center have partnered to increase the number of operating anaerobic digesters on farms, and encouraged research and development of new technologies to help dairies reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Posted: September 30, 2010 at 10:37 pm
By Cindy Zimmerman
The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association (DBA) presented its first ever Environmental Excellence Award on Thursday at World Dairy Expo and the winner is Five Star Dairy of Elk Mound.
General manager Lee Jensen accepted the award from DBA President Jerry Meissner and Executive Director Laurie Fischer. Jensen owns and operates Five Star Dairy with his wife and veterinarian, Dr. Jean Amundson, and his cousin Jim Jensen. As the award winner, the dairy received a commemorative plaque and a check for $500.
Among the dairy’s environmental accomplishments is a thermophylic complete mix digester that uses methane and other byproducts to generate electricity and provide power for approximately 600 homes in the Elk Mound area. The dairy also has a lagoon cover so that the manure lagoon can work as a digester in the future. This project is the first successful thermophylic complete mix digester with a separate substrate tank for agriculture use.
Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Randy Romanski recognized Jensen as a producer who has “chosen to go above and beyond environmental standards to improve and protect our air, water and land.”
Pictured here are Secretary Romanski, Jerry Meissner, Laurie Fischer, Lee Jensen, Jim Jensen and Jean Amundson.
Listen to part of the press conference, starting with Romanski’s remarks, followed by Meissner introducing the winner and then some of Lee’s presentation about Five Star Dairy: DBA Environmental Award
What’s better than a cow that supplies fresh, wholesome milk? Well, how about one that also provides a clean and renewable source of energy? As owners of the Vermont-based Pleasant Valley Farm, Mark and Amanda St. Pierre are supplying one of the oldest sources of energy ever used by humans – sludge. As their family-run farm produces more than 40 million pounds of milk annually, it is also producing enough sludge to generate approximately 3.5 million KWH (kilowatt-hours) of clean, renewable electricity that they then send to Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), the Vermont utility that set up this award-winning program to assist dairy farmers in turning manure into electricity. So community members can rest assured that their source of electricity is coming from a clean and renewable source. In fact in the United States, biomass energy (energy obtained from plants and animal matter) provides 15 times more energy than wind and solar combined. Now that’s better than any cup of milk…even chocolate milk!
Posted: December 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm
By Cindy Zimmerman
Dairy was in the spotlight today in Copenhagen at the Climate Change Summit when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an agreement with U.S. dairy producers to accelerate adoption of innovative manure to energy projects on American dairy farms.
“This historic agreement, the first of its kind, will help us achieve the ambitious goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions while benefiting dairy farmers,” Vilsack said from Copenhagen. “Use of manure to electricity technology is a win for everyone because it provides an untapped source of income for famers, provides a source of renewable electricity, reduces our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and provides a wealth of additional environmental benefits.”
The agreement was made between USDA and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy with the goal of reaching a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020.
DMI CEO Tom Gallagher says memorandum came about because of the commitment of U.S. dairy farmers and the dairy industry to a sustainable future that includes both environmental and economic viability. “Sustainability goes hand in hand with our heritage of taking care of the land and natural resources while producing nutritious products that consumers want,” said Gallagher.
Under the agreement, USDA intends to increase the number of anaerobic digesters supported by USDA programs. Beyond promoting the digesters, the agreement will encourage research, and development of new technologies to help dairies reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Anaerobic digester technology is a proven method of converting waste products, such as manure, into electricity. The technology utilizes generators that are fueled by methane captured from the animal manure. Currently, only about 2 percent of U.S. dairies that are candidates for a profitable digester are utilizing the technology. Dairy operations with anaerobic digesters routinely generate enough electricity to power 200 homes.