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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Sustainable Dairies The Cream of the Crop

By Jonathan Bardelline  March 09, 2012

With cows emitting all that methane, the milk-production industry contends with a carbon footprint as large as the airline industry’s. But many dairies are doing something about it — including making energy out of manure — and the industry has launched its first U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards to recognize the leaders
When you think of products with hefty carbon footprints, milk may not be the first to come to mind. But U.S. dairy industry emissions equal that of the U.S. airline industry.

About three-fourths of the emissions occur before milk even leaves the farm, coming in the form of methane from cows’ belches and farts, fertilizer from feed crops and the use of manure as a fertilizer. Aside from emissions, dairy farming — especially factory farming — can cause local pollution as well, either from manure or the large-scale crop-growing operations needed to feed cows.

So it makes sense that many dairies are working to slim their carbon footprints. And the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy on Thursday recognized the leaders with the first U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards. [Disclosure: GreenBiz Group chairman and executive editor Joel Makower served on the awards jury.]

he awards are part of the 4-year-old U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, an industry effort to reduce its environmental impacts and reduce carbon emissions by one-forth by 2020. The winners were dairy farms that use efficient milking equipment and that capture manure to product energy.

To tackle both manure disposal and emissions reduction at the same time, some farms are investing in anaerobic digesters, which allow them to collect manure, capture the methane from it and turn that gas into energy. Some farms use it to power their own operations, while others have struck partnerships to sell it to local utilities.

Blue Spruce Farm in Vermont, one of the award winners, was the first farm to join the Central Vermont Public Service’s Cow Power program, which lets customers purchase power generated on dairy farms.

The farm was also recognized for being one of the first farms in the U.S. to start using a variable-speed vacuum-pump control, which allows it to reduce energy from milking by about 60 percent. Blue Spruce has halved the amount of energy it uses per cow through other lighting, cooling, barn construction and water-heating improvements.

Werkhoven Dairy in Washington state, meanwhile, was awarded for creating a nonprofit in partnership with other local dairy and beef producers, the Northwest Chinook Recovery and the Native American Tulalip Tribes. The nonprofit operates an anaerobic digester system, fueled by waste from farms, which produces energy for about 300 homes, as well as for Werkhoven and its neighbors.

The country’s first third-party dairy digester project, DF-AP, also won an award. Created by Dean Foods and AgPower Partners, the digester has been financially self-sustaining since its inception, pumping out enough power for about 900 homes and creating 34,000 cubic yards of fertilizer, which is sold at retail stores.
Other awards winners include Holsum Dairies of Wisconsin, Darigold in Seattle and Brubaker Farms of Pennsylvania. The seven winners were chosen from a batch of more than 40 nominees.

Reprinted with permission from:
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Photo courtesy of Dudarev Mikhail via Shutterstock.

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