Dairy Farms Innovating Their Way to a Sustainable Future

“Innovation” is a buzzword thrown about to the point of cliché. What it is varies with the circumstance.

For tech professionals, innovation could be an updated app or a streamlined solution. For teachers, it might be the newest way to engage students remotely. For those in health care, it may be a vaccine or more-effective treatment.

On dairy farms, innovation can look like … entomological wastewater filtration and effluent subsurface drip irrigation. Neither are buzzwords. Both are examples of how dairy is innovating its way toward a more sustainable future.

Royal Dairy in Royal City, Washington, wanted to enhance its waste-management system and reduce GHG emissions. Seeking solutions, Austin Allred, owner of Royal Dairy and a member of Northwest Dairy Association, piloted and adopted the BIDA® System developed by BioFiltro. The international wastewater filtration company uses worms within a passive aerobic system to clean wastewater from the dairy for irrigation. By investing in this technology, Royal Dairy has reduced its Total Suspended Solids (TSS) by 99% and reduced total Nitrogen (TKN) by 83%. As an added benefit, it also creates a rich fertilizer from the worm castings.

Another sustainability solution is found at De Jager Dairy North and California Dairies Inc., member McRee Dairy, both near Chowchilla, California, where drip irrigation is leading toward a future of better harvests and reduced emissions.

The two dairies partnered with Israeli company Netafim and Sustainable Conservation to develop and test a sub-surface irrigation system that delivers liquid dairy cow manure as a fertilizer close to the crop’s root system. This results in needing up to 35 percent less water while maintaining or even increasing crop yields in addition to reducing irrigation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent – saving costs and building resilience against droughts projected to worsen with climate change.

Projects like these, which put in the work today to develop solutions for a better tomorrow, are only two of the many on-farm innovations taking place on dairies. For those who spend their time planting as well as milking, carbon sequestration made possible by cover cropping and conservation tillage further maximize efforts like Allred’s. From improved anaerobic digesters and technology that separates nutrients, to feed additives that reduce methane emissions, dairy farming is continuing to advance – and lead – in adoption of sustainable technologies and practices in agriculture.

And they’re efforts the industry supports, with programs like the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Environmental Stewardship initiative that measures a farm’s carbon and energy footprints. The initiative equips farmers with data that helps them understand their sustainability impact and chart a course for continued progress that’s essential to ensure industry progress toward the collective 2050 environmental goals of becoming carbon neutral or better; optimizing water use; and improving water quality.

On-farm innovation on dairies may not always be as obvious as an app or a vaccine. But they’re no less real or important. Dairy farms are sites of constant innovation, with farmers embracing new methods and new measures. And their proven track record of innovation is set to grow even further.