Unless you’ve intentionally avoided the news lately (which, truthfully, isn’t the worst idea), you’re probably aware of the drought that’s been plaguing California. With unseasonably high temperatures and limited rainfall, this water scarcity has been tough on our land, wildlife and economy. Shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells have created all sorts of water emergencies, and this year almost 50 percent of the state’s irrigated farmland will lose its entire surface water supply. It hasn’t been easy on residents, and certainly hasn’t been easy on me.
Any dairy farmer can tell you how important water is to the life of our farms. Dairies need water for many reasons—most importantly, to keep cows hydrated so they can produce nutrient-rich milk (which is about 90 percent water). Water is also a necessity for cleaning and sanitizing our equipment, flushing manure to digesters or holding lagoons and keeping our cows and equipment cool. Last but not least, we need water to grow feed for our cows. With the drought in its fourth year and still going strong, we have to use water as efficiently and effectively as possible—and thanks to advancements in technology, dairy farmers all across America are doing just that.
My farm has been around for over 100 years, and you can’t be a 100 year-old farm without being sustainable. It’s just not possible. And for as long as I can remember, we’ve been operating this way. We salvage all of the water that we use—it goes through a plate cooler and is then recycled for drinking water for the cows. Fresh water for cooling the animals and cleaning the milking parlor is then recycled to flush manure from barn floors. After that, it’s blended with irrigation water to nourish our crops. And we’re not the only local dairy farm employing these practices.
Brian Medeiros, a farmer from Kings County, has created cow occupancy sensors that only turn water on when cows are present. He’s also found a way to increase the droplet size of water soakers to minimize evaporation. The water on his farm can actually be used up to five times—pretty amazing, right?
Joseph Gallo Farms has been reclaiming and reusing storm water, waste water and water from cheese-making to irrigate crops and power the community. Annually, this farm conserves 2.9 billion gallons of water. That’s right, 2.9 billion gallons.
Tom Barcellos, a farmer from Tulare County, California, was the first farmer to successfully develop conservation tillage for farming feed, which helps manage water scarcity and reduces his farm’s use of chemicals and fuel.
It’s plain to see that technology has helped make dairy farmers much less reliant on the whims of nature. And believe it or not, some dairy farmers have even seen an increase in crop yield after reducing their water usage by 25 percent.
This four-year-long drought hasn’t been easy. It’s destroyed many of our crops, making feed for our animals scant and expensive. It’s also dried up our wells, forcing us to pay higher prices for water to keep our cows properly nourished.
But we’re powerful in numbers. The collective support, dedication and innovation of thousands of dairy farmers state-wide allows us to protect and conserve our most precious resource. With the help of one another, and all the new technology being employed, we’ve continued to produce more than 20 percent of the country’s milk. And we couldn’t be prouder to be contributing to that number.