Dairy and the Environment: Keeping Air and Water Clean

dairy farming and the environment

In this series we have looked at common claims found online about dairy farming and the environment. The final online claim we will look at in this series is this: Dairy farms somehow degrade water resources and pollute the air. 

But common farming practices ensure the opposite. 

Dairy Farming and the Environment

Many dairy farmers reuse water needed across the operation in order to conserve water. Cows are big animals weighing over 1,000 pounds. They need lots of drinking water, drinking approximately a bathtub’s worth per cow, or over 40 gallons. Recycling the water that remains reduces overall usage and actually benefits other areas of the operation. Water is first used to cool milk fresh from the parlor or as drinking water for cows. It then cleans the milking parlor and equipment and barn alleys or walkways before finally irrigating the fields.  

dairy cows eating in barn

A benefit of reused water for irrigation is that it has been enriched by the manure it cleared from barns. This nourishes the soil for the future. Manure as fertilizer also increases some soil’s ability to hold water, which means farmers need less groundwater to grow crops. Yet dairy farmers have committed to doing even better by optimizing water usage and improving water quality by 2050. 

Dairy farmers also work to keep the air clean. Standard cleaning practices and air ventilation is a big part of this, but there are other steps taken. Specially formulated cow diets determined between the farmer and cow nutritionists can reduce the methane produced.  

Any remaining manure following the practices shared last week can be stored in lined lagoons. These lagoons store manure and water that will be used for irrigation. The waste is treated to reduce odor until use. The manmade lagoon is also lined to stop it from absorbing into the ground.  

These efforts and others have improved dairy farming’s sustainability. Today’s dairy farms contribute less than 2% of total GHG emissions in the US. 

So next time you see a claim about dairy farms online, remember the practices farmers have implemented to help the environment. 

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