Environmental stewardship

Since 2007, United States dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint nearly 25 percent. Pictured are Doug Rebout, president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, and Eric Cooley, co-director of The Discovery Farms.

For generations, farmers have been caring for the land, the water, and their environmental resources. While many traditions run deep in the farming community, innovation and ingenuity are the keys to success in agriculture. Today, farmers across our state are leading the way when it comes to Wisconsin’s sustainability efforts.

Protecting land and water resources is crucial for farm families to do their job. Good soil health is needed to grow fruits, vegetables, and crops; while a clean water supply is needed for farm animals to drink. Minimizing their impact on the environment is essential for farmers who are looking to pass their livelihood on to the next generation. A commitment to land, water, and energy usage is top of mind for today’s farmers, regardless whether they call Bayfield, Door or Rock county home.

In order to contribute to a sustainable food system, farmers are continually innovating and looking for their next method of improvement. Grants awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, such as Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants, assist farmers leading conservation efforts in their area. Financial support aids projects focused on preventing and reducing runoff from farm fields and are led directly by farmers.

Though no two farms in our state look alike, sustainable farming practices can be found on farms of all types and sizes. Farmers take time to evaluate their fields, their waterways, and their resources to determine specific methods that will work for their situation.

New technologies are continually being developed to help farmers care for their resources. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, similar to a GPS built in to modern cars and trucks, can also be found in tractors to help guide planting and harvesting equipment. This technology helps to optimize planting efficiency and fuel consumption. Additionally, many modern irrigation systems are equipped with monitoring and control capabilities. This technology allows a farmer to control his or her irrigation system from a smartphone application, helping to conserve water usage.

On my family’s dairy farm, we are looking at ways to recycle our water. First, the water is used to cool our cows’ milk. To do this, the milk passes rapidly between thin plates, surrounded by well water. The water remains in stainless steel pipes the entire time. Next, the water is flowed into our cow drinking tanks. It is essential these tanks are always full, because cows will consume an average of 50 gallons of water per day – that’s the amount of water that can fill a small bathtub!

Environmental sustainability efforts of dairy farmers across the nation have seen great success. Since 2007, United States dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint nearly 25 percent. According to Dairy Management, Inc., each gallon of milk produced today requires 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water than it did almost 70 years ago. Farm families all across our state are committed to improving their practices to do more with fewer resources.

To learn more about sustainability initiatives of Wisconsin dairy farm families, visit www.wisconsindairy.org/Our-Farms/Sustainability.

Abigail Martin, a 2014 graduate of Milton High School, is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland. Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador works with media professionals to share the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy and way of life.

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