This year’s winners displayed excellence in areas such as methane and other greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction practices, as well as water use efficiencies that support the industry-wide 2050 environmental stewardship goals.
The awards, hosted by the farmer-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, have recognized more than 80 winners from nearly 300 nominees since their creation in 2012.
“This year’s winners exemplify how forward-thinking and regenerative efforts across the entire supply chain have led to positive results and what it means to be an environmental solution,” said Barbara O’Brien, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “Considered collectively, these stories of success serve as examples of all the good things U.S. dairy is doing for planetary health and why the aggressive goals we have set are within reach.”
The awards are judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts who consider innovation, scalability and replicability when evaluating nominations. Among the criteria to apply for the awards is participation and good standing in the FARM animal care program and agreement to participate in the FARM environmental stewardship online tool for determining their GHG and energy footprint. Both initiatives are part of the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment, U.S. dairy’s social responsibility pledge to consumers, customers and other stakeholders.
“As a dairy farmer, I understand the importance of community and being a true caretaker of the environment that surrounds our farm, and these winners demonstrate these values to their neighbors every day,” said Marilyn Hershey, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and chair of the Dairy Management Inc. board of directors. “These all are solution- and results-oriented businesses who are not only making meaningful contributions locally but to the U.S. dairy industry overall.”
The 2022 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards winners are:
Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Deer Run Dairy, Kewaunee, Wisconsin
At Deer Run Dairy, farming is a continuous learning process. Partners Duane Ducat, Derek Ducat and Dale Bogart actively participate in Wisconsin’s Demonstration Farm Network and Discovery Research program. The region’s topography, shallow soils and proximity to Lake Michigan pose water quality challenges, and the partners have implemented numerous conservation practices to protect the water and to improve soil health. As big believers in the value of cover crops, they set and achieved a goal to seed 100% of their cropland with cover crops in the fall of 2021. Additional goals encompass the entire 1,850-cow operation, including minimal antibiotic use and feeding trials to reduce methane gas production in the rumen of the cow. All goals ladder up to the ability to be a profitable business on land that is sustained for generations to come.
Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Grayhouse Farms Inc., Stony Point, North Carolina
When it came time to build a new dairy five years ago, Jimmy and Andy Gray designed a dairy that is, as Jimmy called it, “conservation and efficiency by design,” with dozens of water and soil conservation practices in use. The flush manure management and sand separation system allows sand to be recycled nearly 100 times, and a four-stage lagoon is designed to best utilize nutrients and water. The facility for their 1,120 cows was also built to maximize cow comfort, from ventilation and fans to rubber matting, sprinklers and sand bedding. Soil conservation practices include GPS placement of nutrients, cover crops, filter strips and 100% no-till farming. Land that is not well suited for farming is cared for with an equal amount of attention to wildlife conservation. “We understand that we hold the title of this property, but we are the caretakers, and we must be vigilant in how we farm,” said Jimmy.
Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Steve and Cheryl Schlangen Dairy Farm, Albany, Minnesota
Steve and Cheryl Schlangen’s mindset of continuous improvement is a way of life on their 60-cow, 200-acre farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. They count more than 30 conservation practices, from LED lighting and cover crops to a manure-stacking slab that prevents nutrient leaching into the water and a manure injection system that uses less time, less fuel and has virtually eliminated the need for commercial fertilizer on their crops. Their enthusiasm for sharing ideas and results with others has earned them a national reputation as leaders in regenerative agriculture. Schlangen Dairy provides a blueprint for beginning farmers and generational farms to follow.
Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Bar 20, Kerman, California
Bar 20 Dairy’s on-farm energy investments have added up big for the environment. LED bulbs provide lighting in all the barns, reducing the demand for electricity by 75%. Two solar array installations provide electricity for the dairy barn and offset power usage of the farming operation. A dairy digester captures methane from the 7,000-cow herd and converts it into renewable electricity via fuel cells. Through a partnership with BMW North America, the combustion-free, dairy-derived electricity is transmitted via the utility grid to power electric vehicles. The methane emission reductions at the farm, when combined with the renewable energy generation, result in carbon emission reductions equivalent to providing clean power to over 17,000 electric vehicles per year. Electricity generated by the fuel cells also powers a feed mixing system, replacing diesel and reducing smog-forming emissions by 90%.
Outstanding Dairy Processing Sustainability: Milk Specialties Global, Monroe, Wisconsin
A whey processing project at Milk Specialties Global (MSG) demonstrates how making one change can deliver sustainability benefits across the supply chain. To meet surging demand for dairy protein in foods and beverages, MSG acquired a plant in Monroe, Wisconsin, to collect and process whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking, into whey proteins. However, the whey supply from local cheesemakers far outweighed processing capacity. Instead of trucking the whey to a larger plant, MSG found a way to double capacity at the plant without increasing the facility’s footprint. Artisanal cheesemakers saw a waste product turn into a revenue stream. The local community benefitted too: Truck miles decreased by 237,232 miles, saving 47,446 gallons of diesel fuel and reducing GHG emissions by 486 metric tons; 2.9 million gallons of water are now reclaimed and returned to the local watershed; and more than 53,000 pounds of whey protein is produced annually to fuel athletes and animals around the globe.
Outstanding Community Impact: Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA) is a community of more than 900 dairy farm families. With 90% of these located within the critical Chesapeake Bay watershed, the cooperative recognizes its responsibility to bring environmental solutions to its members and their communities. Through supply chain and partnerships with corporations, customers and conservation nonprofits, they have delivered more than $19 million in funds to make meaningful sustainability investments on member farms. To drive community impact, volunteers from MDVA and its partners participate in events such as planting riparian buffers on dairy farms and trash pickups along waterways. Planting riparian buffers helps protect critical waterways far beyond the reach of the farm, while also exposing people throughout the dairy supply chain to agriculture.
Outstanding Supply Chain Sustainability: Bel Brands, Land O’Lakes Inc., Boadwine Dairy
This multiyear program is designed to demonstrate the value of feed production practices that improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports Bel Brands’ and Land O’Lakes’ shared ambitions to improve sustainable farming practices and reduce dairy’s environmental footprint. The project provides cost incentives, access to resources and expertise, and the use of the Truterra insights engine to participating farms. The first pilot took place on Boadwine Dairy, a member-owner of Land O’Lakes, where efforts to improve soil health have been ongoing for more than 10 years and is being expanded to dairy farms ranging in size from 450 to 2,000 cows in two regions.
A formal celebration of the winners is scheduled in conjunction with the Dairy Sustainability Alliance Fall Meeting, Nov. 14-15 in Glendale, Arizona.
For more information, visit the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy website.
—From an Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy news release