The New York Animal Agriculture Coalition works with farmers every day who are dedicated to environmental stewardship and leaving the environment in better condition for future generations. Their commitment is demonstrated by the use of best management practices and technologies, both in the barns and in the fields, and always striving towards continuous improvement. New York agriculture will be a critical part of the solution to achieving state and national climate initiatives.
One New York dairy farmer, AJ Wormuth, has recently shared the ways in which farms are working to reduce their in greenhouse gas emissions and highlights many of the practices on farms today. We wanted to share his words with all of you.
Farmers are doing our part to meet NY’s climate goals (Guest Opinion by AJ Wormuth)
By AJ Wormuth | Half Full Dairy Farm
AJ Wormuth, of Half Full Dairy farm in Elbridge, is a Board Member of the Northeast Dairy Producers Association.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act has been talked about a lot recently. It passed in 2019 and is laying the groundwork for us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050. What most New Yorkers do not know is that farmers and their dairy cows are playing an active role in achieving the goals of the CLCPA.
More than 96% of farms in New York state are family-owned, and it’s our priority to recycle and reuse materials as much as possible. This ensures our cows are comfortable and healthy, our milk is the highest quality possible, and our natural resources are protected and preserved. Farmers are the original stewards of the land. We understand how important it is to preserve our natural resources and continue feeding our communities while ensuring there’s a viable farm for the next generation.
Our state departments of Agriculture & Markets, Environmental Conservation and Labor are all actively involved with our farms, providing resources to support milk testing, implement nutrient management plans, train employees, and much more. There are also Soil & Water Conservation Districts across the state — 58 in total — that work on a regular basis with farms to support conservation efforts.
Farmers are focused on sustainability and recycling, and our cows are too. For example, many farmers include recycled food waste and byproducts in cow feed — byproducts that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
And cows are part of the natural biogenic carbon cycle — the process of plants and animals recycling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Cows release methane into the atmosphere where it’s transformed into carbon dioxide. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture carbon dioxide and convert it into carbohydrates. Ruminants like dairy cows then eat the plants, and the natural cycle continues.
Cows also produce manure. Manure can be recycled through a process called anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digesters are large vessels that contain microorganisms that break down the waste. This process results in two substances — biogas and digestate. The biogas can be used like natural gas to provide heat, power cooling systems or generate electricity. It can also be purified into renewable natural gas, which burns cleaner than other fossil fuels and has no odor.
Farmers always work toward a closed-loop system, meaning we’re able to recycle as much material as possible. However, the unprecedented surge in fuel and fertilizer costs is making the need to recycle and reuse on the farm more important than ever. Family farms operate with razor-thin margins and are unable to pass increased costs on to consumers. On top of that, dairy farms are compensated for their time and effort weeks after the milk leaves the farm. This makes business planning and financial forecasting extremely difficult.
Farms can separate the solid material resulting from anaerobic digestion even further, drying out material that can be used as soft bedding for the cows, and then storing the liquid to be used as natural fertilizer in the fields — a great example of a closed-loop system. Farmers work with experts like agronomists, certified nutrient management planners and local soil and water districts to create and implement management plans to ensure the manure is applied efficiently and effectively. Many farms use a dragline system and inject manure into the ground, which reduces road traffic and fuel use because manure is brought directly from storage to the fields. Applying manure directly below the surface of the soil helps preserve soil integrity, prevents runoff and erosion, and reduces odor.
Farms also plant cover crops to keep soil nutrients in place, practice reduced tillage in the fields for less ground disturbance, and use GPS technology in their tractors for more precise planting and harvesting.
Our state has one of the most ambitious climate action laws in the nation, and while other industries are just beginning to plan emissions reduction strategies, agriculture has been making progress for decades. This is not a new concept, made evident by the fact that agriculture accounts for just 6% of the state’s total emissions. Our farms will be a critical part of the solution to climate change.
Innovative farming practices and new technologies are supporting the industry’s goal to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050, and these efforts have already resulted in a significant decrease in our carbon footprint.
A gallon of milk in 2017 required 21% less land, 30% less water, and 20% less fuel than in 2007.
Years of dedicated stewardship, research and evolving technology have positioned family dairy farms as leaders in environmental stewardship, and the industry looks forward to actively participating in the discussion, strategy, and implementation of efforts to achieve New York’s climate goals.
*This story was originally published in THE POST STANDARD.