Q: Are dairy farms sustainable?
A: Sustainability is achieved on farms by being more efficient along with being good stewards of the land and caregivers of animals that will benefit future generations.
As I think about sustainability, from my perspective it is doing the right thing for the environment, for our community, and for our family business. By doing the right thing, I can sustain a viable business for the next and future generations of farmers.
All farmers, including dairy farmers, have a desire for their farms to be sustainable. We find better ways, become more efficient and more productive, from one generation to the next.
Generations of Sustainable Farming My great-grandfather hauled milk in milk cans from the dairy farm to the nearby railroad, which had a milk house dock. The milk was shipped to Chicago back then. Later he hauled his milk to the Burlington milk plant (still in milk cans). Today, a milk truck picks up our milk on the farm and transports it to Muller-Pinehurst in Rockford.
When I was little we used to carry milk by hand in stainless steel pails from the cows to the bulk tank. Now milk is pumped through pipelines, from the milking parlor to the bulk tank, more efficiently.
My girls grew up riding in the wheelbarrow where I hand-scooped feed to the cows and carried small square bales to feed the cows individual slices of hay and sprinkle protein and mineral on top of it. We now do that with the tractor and a large mixing wagon. Today, I can easily feed 10 times as many cows in the same amount of time it took to feed a few several years ago.
Environmentally Friendly & Energy Efficient Dairy farmers continue to produce more milk with less energy and fewer costs─this is what makes us sustainable. We do this while also improving our environment.
We became more energy efficient with the use of LED lighting. We also test the manure for nutrients and apply it at agronomical rates to improve the soil and achieve more feed production per acre. With our crops we use newer seed varieties and better planting technology. And we also use water to cool milk and then reclaim it to allow us to use it for drinking water.
Farmland Stewardship We are also good stewards of our land and our resources trying to make sure they’re available for future generations. We use buffer filter strips next to all open streams to avoid erosion or nutrients from entering those streams. We manage crop residue and rotate crops. It is amazing how alfalfa or wheat rotations can improve the soil.
Dairy cows today produce about three times more milk than when I started dairy farming. As we produce more with fewer inputs our carbon footprint is decreased. This is sustainability!
As the population grows globally, dairy farmers continue to be sustainable and therefore we will be able to feed the world for future generations.
Got a question for a farmer? Submit your farm and food questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will share questions with our local farmers and publish their answers as space allows in upcoming issues of Connections.