Earth Day reminds us that we all have a role to play in conserving and protecting the environment.
As CEO of the Western Dairy Association — an organization that promotes milk products for dairy farmers in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana — I’m proud to say conservation is a belief shared and practiced daily by the dairy farm families whom I represent.
Sometimes that message gets lost or misrepresented (“Environmentalists don’t eat meat,” Rant & Rave, April 20). So in honor of those who work the land daily, I want to share four Earth Day facts about dairy farmers’ right here in Colorado.
First, Colorado’s dairy farmers are focused on the environment. It’s an occupational “must” because the success and profitability of a dairy farm depends upon healthy land, water and air. This state’s 150 dairy farms are some of the most progressive in the nation and conservation is taken seriously.
The region’s dairy farmers constantly invest in methods that preserve natural resources and protect their communities. Some of those methods include managing soil nutrients, conserving water, using crop practices that keep carbon locked in the soil, reducing fuel use, and minimizing milk transportation costs. These practices are good for the environment, create efficiencies and reduce costs. Over the past 60 years, improvements like these have helped to reduce carbon emissions, nationwide, by 63 percent (Cornell University) — that’s the same as removing 32 million cars from the road.
Second, the dairy industry is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, the fluid milk chain — from the grass the cow eats to the milk in your glass — contributes less than 2 percent of total U.S. gas emissions. Globally, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that milk production, processing and transportation, in total, contributes 2.7 percent.
Regardless of those low percentages, the dairy industry (farmers and companies) is absolutely committed to getting consumers the nutritious dairy products they want, in a way that is economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible. In 2008, the U.S. dairy industry launched a sustainability effort that plans to reduce the overall (2 percent) carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020. That’s the same as taking another 1.25 million cars off the road — every year.
Third, Colorado dairy farmers make daily contributions to the effort. For years, they have worked with Colorado State’s Livestock and Animal Science Department to improve animal feeding and genetics that help to reduce carbon and nitrogen emissions from animals.
Dairy marketing cooperatives and processors also play a huge role. Colorado dairy farmers, who market their milk through Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (DFA), have endorsed a Gold Standard that benchmarks best farming practices with a priority on environmental stewardship. They have, also, piloted two programs in this region that are standard-bearers in fuel conservation and milk hauling efficiencies.
Finally, Colorado dairy farmers contribute to the health and wellbeing of citizens. Milk from Colorado’s dairy farms provides consumers with many food options including low-fat and fat-free products that provide essential nutrients. Dairy farm families contribute an estimated $1 billion to the state’s economy and produce over 2.9 billion pounds of milk processed by the nation’s leading food companies — right here in Colorado.
It’s Earth Day every day on Colorado’s dairy farms.
CEO, Western Dairy Association