Dairy farmers continuously implement strategies to protect the environment | General

Dairy farmers continuously implement strategies to protect the environment | General

April conjures thoughts of spring and new planting seasons. Along those lines, this month also highlights the importance of protecting the environment with the designation of April as Earth Month. Throughout the United States, industries are developing strategies to positively impact the environment, including the U.S. dairy industry. Dairy farms continuously do more with less and use best practices and innovations to reduce environmental impacts. These practices enhance the farms’ economic and social responsibility for the benefit of local communities.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, family farms comprise 96% of all U.S. farms. Most dairy farms in Missouri and Illinois are family-owned and operated and have fewer than 300 cows. Dairy farmers work where they live and care about protecting the land, water and air for their families, surrounding communities and future generations.

“Dairy farmers work hard at being good stewards of the land and providing excellent animal care,” said Monica Nyman, a registered dietitian and senior nutrition educator with St. Louis District Dairy Council. “As a result of dairy farmers’ efforts, the cows produce nutritious milk. Milk provides 13 essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Because of this robust nutrition package, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three servings of dairy a day. Dairy foods are also an affordable and accessible source of nutrition for many American families.”

Dairy farmers continuously implement strategies to protect the environment

Dairy farmers are mindful of the planet and are committed to producing nutritious food through responsible practices regulated by federal and state agencies.

Animal care is job No. 1

Healthy cows are happy cows, and happy cows make more milk. Dairy farmers keep their cows happy and healthy by providing clean and comfortable housing, round-the-clock access to fresh food and water, and medical attention when necessary. Dairy farmers work with a dedicated team that includes veterinarians, animal nutritionists and environmental consultants.

Dairy cows excel at upcycling

Dairy farms upcycle components of crops and food waste from other industries that would otherwise go to a landfill. This includes almond hulls, distiller grains, citrus pulp, soybean meal and cotton seeds. Dairy farmers use these materials, along with corn silage, hay, soybeans and alfalfa, as feed for the cows. Overall, 80% of a cow’s diet cannot be consumed by humans. Cows, in turn, convert their feed into nutritious milk.

Dairy farmers reduce, reuse and recycle water

Water recycling is standard practice on a dairy farm. Dairy farmers can reuse water as many as five or six times. For example, farmers use water to keep milk tanks cool and then reuse it as drinking water for the cows. Farmers also use wastewater to flush barns and to irrigate crop fields.

Manure management

Manure contains nutrients that improve soil quality and crop yield, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When farmers fertilize soil with cow manure, the soil retains 20% more water. This moisture retention supports crop growth, especially during a dry summer season. In addition, dairy farmers reduce costs and contamination of clean ground water when using manure in place of commercial fertilizers.

Water quality is top-of-mind

Precision farming, cover crops and buffer strips protect waterways by reducing nutrient runoff on farmland. Cover crops help with soil erosion, improve soil health, crowd out weeds, control pests and diseases, and increase biodiversity. Buffer strips are protective zones of permanent vegetation between a farm field and a waterway. Buffer strips slow and filter storm runoff, hold soil in place and reduce the amount of harmful chemicals and microbes that enter waterways. State and local government agencies regularly inspect and test the water on dairy farms.

Manure is a renewable fuel

New methane digester technology heats manure and uses bacteria to break it down into methane-rich biogas. This gas is a renewable fuel that can generate electricity. Farms that use this technology generate enough electricity for their farm and more.

For more information on the sustainability of dairy farms, visit www.stldairycouncil.org or contact Monica Nyman at 309-681-4629 or [email protected]. Follow St. Louis District Dairy Council on Facebook and Instagram at STLDairyCouncil.

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