The dairy industry contributes an estimated at $515M from farmgate milk and beef production to the Whatcom County economy and employs 1,348 people, according to Washington State University ag-economist Dr. J. Shannon Neibergs, who separated Whatcom County dairy contributions from USDA data and a related survey of state dairy farms dating back to a 2011 WSU economic study.
His analysis came from data analyzed in a survey of Washington’s 480 dairy farms. There are 110 dairy farms in Whatcom County that average 464 cows per farm for a total of 51,000 cows countywide. Washington’s temperate climate, advanced animal genetics, and farm management make Washington State one of the nation’s most efficient producers of milk.
“Western Washington has the ideal temperature for dairy production when compared to the extreme heat of California or extreme cold of the Midwest,” saidJ. Shannon Neibergs PhD., WSU Extension Economic Specialist and Associate Professor. “The average dairy farm in Washington is a $4.7 million business employing 18 people.”
With Autumn rainfall beginning in earnest, water quality testing often shows high fecal coliform levels in shellfish beds and waterways across Whatcom County. The high levels are attributed to runoff from septic, livestock and even wastewater treatment.
While livestock and dairies are part of the problem, Whatcom Conservation District Nutrient Management Specialist Dr. Nichole Embertson brings dairy farmers and herd managers together for a series of meetings each year to learn how to minimize the risk of manure runoff into waterways.
Although the costly testing for ‘source apportionment’ conducted by the Department of Ecology has proven inconclusive, dairy farmers in the county continue to work on ways to mitigate the effect of their operations on water quality.
Whatcom-based veterinarian Jacob Steiger DVM makes regular visits to area dairy farms where veterinary students can gain valuable experience learning day-to-day farm operations and the nuances of large-animal health care. “We encourage veterinary medical students who have an interest in food animal medicine to work on a farm and work side-by-side with experienced large-animal veterinarians,” he says, “so they understand the pressures and time constraints associated with treating milking cows and cattle.”
One of the veterinary school programs providing on-farm experience is the Northwest Bovine Veterinary Experience – a joint program of Washington State University and the University of Idaho – established in 2008 at the University of Idaho to introduce hands-on livestock veterinary medicine to students hands-on. Funded in part by Idaho and Washington dairy farm organizations, the program encourages students to pursue bovine veterinarian careers.
“This program opens their eyes to producing valuable food products, since many veterinary students don’t have an idea about the production of food,” said Dr. Gordon Brumbaugh DVM, Ph D., NW Bovine Experience Program director and veterinary scientist. “The two-year program begins with six weeks working on the farm through all of production elements, followed by the second year where they are lined up with a dairy cow-focused veterinarian who serves as a mentor.” Dr. Brumbaugh says there are more veterinary students interested in the program than can be placed. For information about the program and/or to explore engaging an intern dairy farmer and livestock veterinarian, contact him directly at [email protected].
Livestock manure is a nutrient-packed resource that should not be categorized, classified or regulated in the same way as human waste, according to Pius Ndegwa, PhD., WSU Biological Systems Engineering School Associate Professor and livestock manure specialist. He explains that the main difference between human waste and livestock manure is that human waste contains pathogenic organisms and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and mercury in sewage sludge. These potentially dangerous substances are not found in livestock manure.
“The EPA makes clear scientific distinctions between livestock manure and human waste, where a significant number and variety of harmful pathogenic organisms and disease causing agents can be found,” Dr. Ndegwa said. “For anyone who understands the nature of the two waste streams, there is no scientific basis for classifying livestock manure nutrients the same as sewage sludge, as the latter poses significantly higher potential threat to the environment and human health.”
“Dairy farm operations may leave the incorrect perception that they cause high nitrate levels in groundwater,” he continued, “but it would be disingenuous to single out dairy farm operations as the cause of high nitrate levels when there is so much farming activity — many using chemical or synthetic fertilizers.”
Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.