How dairy farmers are protecting our planet

A gallon of milk. Cream for our coffee. A pat of butter. Whether you’re enjoying a yogurt on the go in the morning or family night at home with a cheese and veggie pizza, dairy has been an enjoyable and nutritious part of daily life for generations. Throughout that time, America’s dairy farm families have provided an essential service to nourish their communities, during good times or bad.

Did you know those same dairy farmers are also taking care of our planet? America’s 34,000 dairy farm families are directly connected to the land and have a long history of care for the environment and responsible dairy production. Since 2007, the entire dairy value chain worked together to reduce the carbon footprint of each gallon of milk by 19%, using 30% less water and 21% less land, as seen in the Journal of Animal Science (2017). Now, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, established under the leadership of dairy farmers and dairy companies, set aggressive, industry-wide sustainability targets for 2050:

  • Become carbon neutral or better;
  • Optimize water use while maximizing recycling;
  • Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients.

Recognizing the challenges facing our planet, farmers across the U.S. are adopting conservation practices, caring for their cows, recycling water and some are even generating clean energy to help make dairy an environmental solution.

One such farmer, Dirk Young of Twin Birch Dairy in Skaneateles, New York, maximizes his operation’s resources with a combination of climate-smart practices. He uses an anaerobic digester to make cow bedding and crop fertilizer out of cow manure, and he also partners with an environmental group to ensure the water quality of New York’s Finger Lakes meets the highest standards for his community. As a result, the water quality surrounding his dairy farm has improved both downstream and upstream.

For Lloyd and Daphne Holterman, healthy cows and a healthy planet go hand in hand at Watertown, Wisconsin’s Rosy-Lane Holsteins dairy. They improved their production so cows can produce more milk per pound of feed, and the farm has not used antibiotics on its milking herd in over seven years.

Oregon’s largest dairy farm, Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, has little to no waste, thanks to its closed-loop system. Highlights from the dairy’s system: mint harvest byproducts are included in the cows’ feed; manure is used as fertilizer; and its anaerobic digester produces renewable natural gas. It powers natural gas vehicles on the farm, which reduce fuel emissions by 80% compared to diesel fuel.

U.S. dairy farmers recognize the challenges facing our planet require more than just individual action. That’s why the U.S. dairy community is building on a long-standing history of environmental stewardship and collaborating on ways to accelerate the pace of continuous improvement to become an environmental solution, ultimately laying the roadmap to responsibly feed families for generations to come.

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