Sustainability in Dairy Farming
Dairy farmers care a great deal about the environment and the long-term sustainability of their farms and their communities. Most dairy farmers in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming hope to one day pass their farms on to their children (and many have inherited the family business from their own parents, grandparents and great-grandparents), so they want to make sure the land, water and air are protected and preserved for future generations.
Dairy farming produces only 2 percent of the animal livestock contributions to greenhouse gases. Today’s dairies use 90 percent less cropland, produce 76 percent less manure, use 65 percent less water and 63 percent less carbon than a dairy did in 1944.
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, developed and funded with the help of U.S. dairy farm families, is leading the industry in setting goals for reducing carbon emissions and other environmental improvements. For the industry, the Innovation Center aspires to reduce carbon emissions for fluid milk by 25 percent by 2020.
The Innovation Center has also laid out guidelines and is creating a computer-based program to help farmers evaluate and implement changes that will benefit the environment and the sustainability of their farms through the Farm Smart program. Farm Smart will help dairy farmers to make better decisions for their farms and the environment.
The Innovation Center’s other focus areas include research into cow feed to reduce gas emissions, the use of anaerobic manure digesters to provide power, looking at packaging and transportation costs, as well as energy efficiency in the pasteurization process.
On each individual farm, dairy farm families have taken various steps to improve the long-term sustainability of the operation. Some of these steps may include:
- Re-using water – first it is pumped out of the ground and used to cool the milk as it leaves the cow and goes into the bulk tank. Then, it is put into use for the cows to drink. What’s left may be used for washing barns or watering crops.
- Energy-efficient lighting – most barns and milking parlors are now equipped with energy efficient lighting that in some cases, dramatically reduces electricity demands on farm.
- Manure use – manure is a natural byproduct of owning cattle, but dairy farmers put it to good use by either selling it to neighboring farms for use as a natural fertilizer or using it on their own fields.