The first time I heard that, “Farmers, the original environmentalists”, it really stuck with me. Because isn’t that the truth?! Who would care more about the environment than people whose livelihoods depend solely on the land they live on? Yet, it always seems to surprise people (from both sides of the table) when I tell them I am an environmental dairy scientist. It is not a conventional role or job on a dairy. And it leads me to do a lot of explaining even to my husband and family. So what do I do exactly?
Well dairy producers are regulated by a number of different agencies and are required to have several permits. These permits can be extensive. Here in New Mexico, the New Mexico Environment Department issues what it calls a discharge permit which has some of the countries most strict ground water regulation. A couple of things this permit regulates includes: the amount of water that can be used in the barn, the reuse of that “green water” to be applied to the fields to meet the crop needs, quarterly sampling of groundwater and lagoons and annual sampling of soil and regular site inspections. Producers must submit quarterly reports, nutrient management plans and land application data sheets that analyze all of this data. This is where I come in. I work for an environmental consulting company. Dairies hire us to assist them with environmental compliance, collecting all this data and submitting the reports. So I get to work with not only my family dairy, but I have several other dairies as clients as well. We have a whole team of agronomist, hydrologist, geologist and environmentalist to help producers protect their water and land and ensure that crops are receiving the recommended nutrients without over applying those nutrients. We want to ensure that they use the best management practices available to reduce water use, protect ground water and ensure soil conservation.
One of my favorite things about this job is traveling all across the country to meet with producers. I love hearing how dairy farmers in different regions do things a little different. And how their resource concerns shape their conservation practices. One thing that remains constant, no matter where I am, is dairy producers’ passion for protecting their land, water and cows for future generations. Here in New Mexico, water is our limiting resource. So while most people don’t find lagoon management very exciting, I think that is pretty amazing that one gallon of water can be recycled several times on the dairy. That gallon of water can be used to cool the milk in the chillers, wash down the barn, flush the alleys and water and fertilize the crops we produce for food for our cows.
Do you have a question about dairy farmers and the environment or are you a producer with a question? Dont hesitate to leave a comment with your question!
Udderly in love with dairy,
New Mexico Milkmaid