Dairy Sustainability

Delivering Goodness from the Ground Up

Dairy farmers’ commitment to fostering a healthy planet is just as strong as their commitment to producing nutrient-rich milk on their dairy farm for you and your family to enjoy for a healthy lifestyle. In fact, dairy foods are important contributors of many nutrients in the diet that are vital to good health. Few other foods deliver these nutrients in such an affordable, appealing and accessible way.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the world population is estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050. To meet this growing need, farmers are working hard to reduce their impact on the environment, using less land and resources to produce more food and milk. Compared to farms in 1960, USDA statistics show that U.S. dairy farms today are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows. This increase in production is due to genetic improvement through breeding, a focus on cow comfort, quality and management of dairy farms and increased knowledge of nutritional needs for dairy cows.

Dairy Production Improvement

But the work is not done. The dairy industry continues to take steps to become even more sustainable. Midwest Dairy Association is an active partner with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which focuses on bringing leaders in the dairy community together to develop and share metrics and best practices that lead to sustainable dairy production. While dairy farmers have already made great strides in reducing the carbon footprint on their farms, the industry is working together to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 — the equivalent to taking 1.25 million passenger cars off the road each year. All dairy farms, whether conventional or organic, are committed to sustainable dairy farming.

On-Farm Sustainability Practices

Cow milk production involves more than milking cows. For dairy farmers, a cow’s comfort and health is very important to their overall sustainability efforts because healthy and well-treated animals produce high-quality, wholesome dairy foods. When it comes to animal care, nutritious diets, healthy living conditions and good veterinary care are practices routinely used by all farmers to keep their herds healthy. In addition, dairy farmers and the dairy community have created FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management), a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care practices.

On the farm, dairy farmers are conservationists and use a variety of recycling practices so that they use as little water and energy as possible in the daily management of their farms. Many dairy farmers practice manure production by spreading natural manure into the soil to replenish the soil so crops grow better, reducing the amount of commercial fertilizers needed.

Midwest Dairy farmers have been recognized nationally for their strong commitment to sustainability. In 2015, Jer-Lindy Farms and Redhead Creamery, a partnership between two generations of the Jennissen family, were recognized with a 2016 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability. The 200-cow Brooten, Minn., farm was acknowledged for its multi-generational commitment to a number of innovative sustainable practices. Highlights include reducing the farm’s energy use by 20 percent by utilizing an energy efficiency program, not using any commercial fertilizer on any of its 258 acres, and feeding whey byproduct generated while making artisan cheese at their on-site cheese processing operation back to their cows.

The Jennissens are just one example of the sustainability commitment that all Midwest Dairy farmers share. See how dairy farmers Dean Marshik and Clare Palmquist have also focused on sustainability to make sure their farm lives on for generations to come.

Dairy Farmers are Committed to Sustainability

Dairy farmers rely on scientific advancements and on-farm sensibilities to look for new ways to be sustainable. Examples of sustainable farming practices include:

  • Crop rotation to mitigate weeds and improve soil quality,
  • The introduction of beneficial insects to control harmful pests,
  • No-tillage or reduced tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation, and
  • The use of new products with enhanced environmental benefits.
Cows in free stall barn eating feed

Cows are also the original recycler, with the bulk of their diet including by-products that humans can’t digest. In fact, 75% of a cow’s diet is not consumable by humans. Cows have four stomachs which means they can recycle food people can’t eat, such as citrus pulp and cottonseed.

But when it comes to sustainability, consumers have a shared responsibility, particularly as it relates to choices we make about the food we put on our plate and our efforts to reduce overall food waste.

Food Waste – We Can All Help

Food waste is a significant concern today, and something we can all have a major impact on. According to the USDA, nearly one-third of our food, valued at $162 billion annually, goes uneaten and ends up in a landfill.

One of the most impactful things families can do to help ensure that nutritious foods are available for everyone is to reduce their overall food waste. Small steps add up. Making healthy, nutrient-rich food choices with protein, including dairy fresh products like milk, cheese and yogurt, is an easy way to maximize your calorie input at meals and snack times, helping you to feel fuller longer. Being mindful of portion size is another critical way to help minimize food waste.

Consumers can put their commitment to sustainability into action by:

  • Buying only what you will eat and think about getting the most nutrition for your money – planning meals and grocery shopping with a list is a key to this step!
  • Taking home leftovers from your restaurant meals.
  • Being creative with leftovers at home using recipe sites that allow you to search by ingredient.
  • Freezing food before it spoils – that large casserole will freeze and be a great dinner at a later date!

Nutrition, agriculture and sustainability are no longer separate conversations. We can each play a role making choices on the farm and in our homes that help us preserve our environment for future generations.

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