Earth Day, celebrated on April 22nd, began in 1970, the same year that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. Both events signified a budding environmental movement that has continued to gain momentum. Today, ecology and how human interactions with the environment will affect the planet over time closely align with the concept of sustainability.
Sustainability is important to many, including dairy farmers, who rely on their land and cows to support their families and community. Cows are part of a natural carbon life cycle, which is an essential part of understanding greenhouse gases. While cows do contribute to greenhouse gases in the form of methane, methane differs from carbon dioxide, which results from the burning of fossil fuels among other things. Unlike carbon dioxide which can stay in the atmosphere for a thousand years, methane only lasts about ten years. Although research shows dairy production as a whole only contributes two percent of the United States greenhouse gases (transportation in comparison contributes about 29 percent) dairy farmers do play a key role in improving sustainability. Further research showed a gallon of milk had a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint in 2007 than it did in 1944, due to modern farming techniques in cow comfort, cow health, cow nutrition and breeding.
Dairy farms come in many sizes and so do the number of ways dairy farmers practice sustainably on their land. For one, they maintain healthy soil by recycling and returning nutrients back to the earth in the form of manure. Some farmers use anaerobic digesters before they recycle the manure. This traps the methane in the manure before entering our atmosphere and instead uses it to produce energy for the farm and sometimes even the community. Dairy farmers have also improved the health of cows by feeding specialized diets, prioritizing cow comfort, and closely following health data to guide breeding. With fewer cows producing more milk, farmers can conserve resources like water and land while decreasing overall greenhouse gas production.
Americans should celebrate Earth Day with a glass of milk knowing America’s dairy farmers are constantly seeking ways to produce a nutritious product while contributing to a sustainable environment. Take a virtual farm tour in honor of Earth Day to learn more about dairy farmers and what they do in order to produce wholesome milk and milk products that we enjoy and can feel good about.