Members of the U.S. dairy industry —from the local farm to the local retailer — have long played a significant role in our nation’s food system, communities and economy by providing wholesome, nutrient-rich products that promote good health. That legacy is the foundation for the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, in which dairy farm families and companies are working together to foster innovation in environmental sustainability while continuing to provide products that are nutritious, produced responsibly and economically viable for all.
In fact, innovations over the past 50 years have helped dairy farmers reduce their environmental impact by doing more with less. Today, that gallon of milk in refrigerators across the country was produced with 90% less land, 65% less water, 75% less manure, and a 63% smaller carbon footprint than in 1944[i]. These improvements in productivity benefit all of us, but U.S. dairy is committed to do even more.
Below are four great examples of innovations and efficiencies.
Blue Spruce Farm:
Marie Audet, co-owner of Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vt., loves to show visitors her family’s proud tradition of caring for their animals, their land and each other. In this video, Marie takes us on a tour of her family dairy farm, which was named one of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Award winners this year. Blue Spruce is probably best known for pioneering Vermont’s Cow Power program, which gives consumers the choice to purchase renewable energy produced from cow manure. But they have were also one of the first farms in the country to install a variable speed vacuum pump control, reducing energy used during milking by nearly 60 percent. Inspired by new technologies in lighting, milking, milk cooling, barn construction, ventilation and water heating, they reduced energy use from an average of 1,000 kWh per cow per year, to an average of 500 kWh per cow per year. These savings, in turn, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 500 pounds of CO2e per cow per year.
Fair Oaks Farm:
Fair Oaks Farms is another pioneering dairy farm with a long list of innovations tested and implemented on the farm to support their sustainability commitment. Most recently, Fair Oaks earned national recognition for converting cow manure into clean natural gas to fuel their fleet of milk delivery trucks, delivering milk to three Midwestern processing plants. As this video shows, ‘it’s only waste if you waste it.’
Hunter Haven Farm:
Reduce, reuse, recycle is a motto for the farmers at Hunter Haven Farms. Making sure nothing goes to waste, Hunter Haven installed technology to convert cow manure into electricity that powers the farm. The video highlights other sustainable farm practices they employ to safeguard the soil and water quality, such as contour farming and grass water ways. As the folks at Hunter Haven point out, “we are conscientious about what we do to the land because for us, farming is our livelihood as well as our passion.” It’s amazing to see how technology has evolved.
In this video, Dan Rice explains his zero waste manure management program at Prairieland Farms – which means tracking all the outputs from the dairy and making sure each is as sustainable as possible. And this is not only good for the environment, it has helped grow business. The manure from their 1500 cows is composted and turned into fertilizer that can be used on the farm and sold locally. Prairieland’s compost operation even brings in waste from the nearby town to add to its fertilizer mix. Dan’s sustainability efforts extend to the packaging of Prairieland milk – which is packaged in corn-based plastic that can be recycled and composted. The result? Prairieland’s practices are good for the environment, good for the local economy, and good for business.
Sustainable dairy practices have been implemented, perfected and passed down for generations.
[i] Capper J. Cady A. Bauman D. 2009. The environmental impact of dairy production; 1944 compared with 2007. Journal of Animal Science. 87:2160-2167