Held in Nashville, Indiana, the 19th ADSA DISCOVER Conference welcomed 67 registrants, representing 23 states and five countries. The four-day event centered around sustainability in the dairy industry. The 20th DISCOVER Conference will be held September 202-23, 2010 in Champaign, Illinois. Register by August 20 to take advantage of the early registration fee.

Some highlights from the 19th DISCOVER Conference presentations included:

"While improving management on our farms is always important, the real underlying issue is the structure of modern animal agriculture which has evolved through economic competitiveness to be very specialized and regionalized with greater proportions of the feed for animals produced somewhere other than where the animals are located. An unintended consequence of this is that nutrients are transferred from areas where crops are produced to areas where animals are produced and resulting in imbalances of nutrients that can result in pollution. Therefore, solutions to problem must not only include better nutrient management on individual farms, but also must include sustainable strategies to address the regional nutrient imbalance."
Presenter: Douglas Beegle, professor of agronomy, Penn State University
Title: Water Issues and Sustainability

"As dairy production practices continue to be challenged on ethical grounds, it becomes increasingly important to understand the constraints of science in addressing these sorts of concerns. Science, for instance, can answer the question of what risks are associated with certain practices, or what the effects may be of feeding or housing dairy cows in certain ways. However, science cannot tell us whether it is right or even socially acceptable to adopt certain practices or assume the risks that may be associated with them. Thus, the challenge for the dairy industry is to clearly articulate what constitutes acceptable quality of life for a dairy cow, while keeping in mind the perspectives of concerned citizens and consumers."
Presenter: Candace Croney, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University
Title: Animal Welfare, Ethics and the U.S. Dairy Industry: Societal and Political Contexts.

"Studies that have conducted a life cycle assessment of alternative dairy production systems have generally concluded that environmental burdens are lower for more productive dairies because of the much smaller herd required to produce a given amount of milk. Thus, those dairies that are most productive in terms of milk produced per cow will generally be better environmentally than less productive dairies. Based on national data in the US, in addition to large confinement dairies having lower costs of production per unit of milk, they also are considerably more productive than smaller dairies. Thus, the trends observed in the industry (i.e., increasing consolidation) appear to be economically advantageous in terms of minimizing the cost of producing milk and environmentally advantageous in terms of reducing the global warming potential per unit of milk produced."
Presenter: Kevin Dhuyvetter, professor of agricultural economics, Kansas State University
Title: Economic Sustainability: In Conflict with or Synergistic to Environmental Sustainability?


"The United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, 2006) report titled ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow' stated that 18% (approximately 7100 Tg CO2- eq yr-1) of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) are directly and indirectly related to the world’s livestock. Recent estimates by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2009) on the impacts of livestock on climate change in the United States and California have arrived at much different GHG estimates associated with direct livestock emissions (enteric fermentation and manure), totaling at less than 3% of total anthropogenic GHG and much smaller indirect emissions compared to the global assessment. Part of the difference of the global versus national predictions is due to the significant weight that has been assigned to the category of ‘‘land-use change’’ patterns related to livestock production (mainly deforestation)."
Presenter: Frank Mitloehner, associate professor in the Department of Animal Science, UC Davis
Title: Livestock's Long Shadow (FAO Report): The Whole Story

"Sustainability is not a four letter word, is not a code word for environmental concerns being trump in decision making, is not assured by being small, any more than it is assured not to be so by being big. It is about achieving better outcomes across 3 fundamental dimensions: economic, environmental and social. Sustainability is a wicked problem! Wicked problems are messy, complex, indefinable problems that are not solved, but managed. In dairy, they include animal welfare and CAFOs."
Presenter: Christopher Peterson, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University
Title: Sustainability in the Dairy Industry: A Wicked Problem for New Knowledge and Engaged Action

"Comprehensive, whole-farm evaluations are needed to determine and compare the environmental impacts of dairy production systems, and this must be done along with an assessment of farm economics. This type of evaluation is essentially impossible through experimental methods. Process-level farm simulation provides a more practical approach, particularly when supported by limited measured data. The Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM) has been used to evaluate the performance, economics, and environmental impacts of a wide range of dairy production systems. The model simulates crop growth, harvest, feed storage, feeding, animal performance, manure production and handling, and crop establishment for many years of weather."
Presenter: C. Alan Rotz, USDA-Agricultural Research Service
Title: Integration of Air and Water Quality Issues

"Improving the efficiency of use of feed nitrogen has become a central component of the ration formulation process for two reasons: the desire to be more environmentally friendly and in some cases the ability to reduce feed costs or make best use of the farm-specific feeds. Strategies are available that allow the industry to reduce the amount of protein fed while maintaining milk production. Improved nutrition and management of the dairy cow has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of the industry by a significant amount. This will require further enhancements of our understanding of nutrient utilization, but also the willingness of the industry to improve feed and feeding management to reduce variation."
Presenter: Michael Van Amburgh, associate professor in Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
Title: Production Efficiency and the Use of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Lactating Dairy Cattle

"Our first objective is to describe a conceptual framework for these different types of animal welfare concern, using examples from dairy production systems. Over the past decade we have seen a tremendous increase in scientific research on the welfare of cattle. Although research alone cannot tell us which types of concerns are most important, it can and has provided solutions to a number of issues. Our second objective is to provide examples of how science can help provide solutions to identified welfare concerns in the dairy industry (e.g. lameness, disease, access to pasture)".
Presenter: Marina Von Keyserlingk, Animal Welfare Program, University of British Columbia
Title: Improving the Welfare of Dairy Cattle: Key Concepts in Animal Welfare and the Role of Science

Read the full summaries at http://www.adsa.org/discover/19thDiscover/SUMMARIES_Combined.pdf.

Information provided by Molly Kelley, ADSA-SAD.