Our dairy farmers are vigilant stewards of the land. They are continually looking for opportunities and refining processes to reuse and recycle resources on the farm to reduce their environmental footprint. There’s a lot of science that goes into sustainable practices on the farm. Here are some of the areas our farmers focus on.
Working the Land
The land is a crucial part of dairy farming. The cows live and graze on the land, plus our farmers grow crops. The fields are well maintained all year round to provide optimal planting soil. Maintaining soil health reduces erosion, retains water, and allows for plants to grow, using carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in return.
Cows have ruminant digestive systems which allow them to eat what humans cannot. In addition to hay, cow food consists of by-products like almond hulls and cotton seed. Instead of throwing this away, it’s sold to dairy farmers to mix with other ingredients to make feed. Our farmers here use some alfalfa that they grow, feeder corn, by-products, and they produce their own silage.
Rinse, Repeat, Recycle
Water is such a precious resource, especially in Nevada, and cows drink a lot of water—30 to 50 gallons a day! Our farmers reclaim and reuse water 3-4 times on their farm. Not only is water used to keep the cows hydrated, but it’s also used for a lot of other processes on the farm from cooling the milk to misting the cows and cleaning the barns to irrigating the crops. For example, water that’s used in the cooling system to chill the milk, can then be reused to flush dairy barns, then recycled again to irrigate crop fields.
Cow manure is a great fertilizer and is extremely valuable. There are a lot of nutrients in cow manure that are beneficial for the soil and crops. Many of our farmers grow alfalfa or other products which they use to feed their cows. By recycling manure as natural fertilizer they reduce the need for commercial chemical fertilizers, both saving costs and reducing chemical use. In addition, cow manure increases the water-holding capacity of soil by up to 20%, further reducing the amount of groundwater needed to grow crops.
Get in the Carpool Lane
Our dairy farms use double tankers to haul milk to the processing plant in order to reduce the number of trucks and trips needed, therefore reducing fuel emissions. In addition, growing some crops for cow feed right on the farm cuts back on feed transport from outside sources, further reducing emissions.
Dairy’s Environmental Impact by the Numbers*
In 2017 compared to 2007, producing one gallon of milk used:
30% Less Water
21% Less Land
21% Less Manure
19% Smaller Carbon Footprint
On the Horizon
Our farmers are already making great strides in reducing the carbon footprint on their farms and the dairy community nationwide is working together to further sustainability initiatives. Currently, U.S. dairy contributes 2% of all U.S. GHG emissions. To continue conserving natural resources and make further progress, U.S. Dairy has established environmental stewardship goals (link to pdf) to reach by the year 2050. These entail:
- Become carbon neutral or better
- Optimize water use while maximizing recycling
- Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients
There’s no denying that sustainability, both here in Nevada and across the agricultural landscape nationwide, will continue to be a focus. Our farmers are committed to protecting the land for generations to come. After all, this is a family business.
- U.S. Dairy Industry Environmental Stewardship Goals
- 2018 US Dairy Sustainability Report
- U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Footprint
*Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Usdairy.com https://www.usdairy.com/sustainability/environmental-sustainability