WSDA Director Tours Valley Dairies
Dan DeRuyter with WSDA Director Sandison and Washington Dairy Commission GM Janet Leister with the manure separator equipment in the background. See more photos of the dairy tour.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) supports farmers and ranchers by learning first-hand how their operations work; through research, reporting and regular on-site farm visits. Recently-appointed WSDA Director Derek Sandison toured three Yakima Valley dairies recently to see first-hand the operation and functionality of a new manure centrifuge, a manure lagoon with a new synthetic liner and a new Dissolved Air Floatation® manure solids separator. The equipment has improved dairy operations by producing nutrient-rich organic fertilizer from manure; and by reinforcing the integrity of manure storage lagoons.
“The equipment the Director saw represents the latest technology to mitigate concerns about dairy farm operations related to air- and water-quality by containing and converting manure nutrients into by-products,” said Steve George of the Washington State Dairy Federation who invited Director Sandison to the dairy farm tour. “We are grateful the Director took time to visit these dairies to better understand dairy production issues and learn how dairy farmers are managing the challenges of dairy operations.”
“As regulations and other actions are being developed, it is important for the Department of Agriculture to fully understand dairy production challenges and how dairymen are addressing them,” he said. “Having the Director see these technologies in operation helps policy-makers make informed decisions based on current, science-based information.”
WSDA regulates, monitors and enforces dairy farm operations and oversees every farm’s Dairy Nutrient Management Plan. A working Nutrient Management Plan is required by all dairy farms to report their application of best management practices and provide records of manure nutrient handling.
“It was clear to me that dairy farmers in the Yakima Basin are working very hard to set new standards for the industry,” Director Sandison said. “Their innovative approaches to managing dairy nutrients were quite impressive and I appreciated being invited onto their farms to see this work firsthand.”
Valley dairy tests drought resistant feed crops
Test plot of drought-resistant Sorghum (‘milo’) at J & K Dairy near Sunnyside.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as of June 1, 2015, the Roza Irrigation District (RID) and Kittitas Irrigation District (KID) had been allotted 44% of their annual water supply for the year; and will be highly dependent on winter snowpack going forward.
“The water supply situation in the Roza is survivable this year, but it could be worse next year,” says Scott Revell, who manages the RID and who has worked as a planner in central Washington for more than 18 years. “Farmers should never stop planning for the next drought.”
Third-generation dairy farmer Jason Sheehan, his wife Karen and Karen’s parents, Tony and Brenda Veiga, operate the 3,300 milking cow J & K Dairy on 900 acres near Sunnyside. They have taken Revell’s words seriously by replacing part of this year’s corn crop with a 130-acre “test plot” of sorghum (also called milo), a whole-grain grass plant with natural drought tolerance that is reported to use half the water needed to grow corn. “Sorghum is a faster growing crop, uses less water and sends its roots down three or four feet, making it more drought resistant,” Revell said.
J & K Dairy also grows triticale (a hybrid of wheat) and corn for silage to feed the dairy’s cows — providing approximately 25% of the herd’s feed. Based on results of the sorghum test plot, more could be included as feed in the future.
The 2015 water availability forecast has fallen from a high of 73% of normal to 44% of normal supply, according to the RID. Revell says farmers have largely stepped up to help conserve water. “Farmers have invested in sprinkler systems with center pivots that use less water, and using manure ponds to store irrigation water for future use,” he said. “During the three weeks we were shut down, some farmers were pooling water, accessing emergency wells and reusing water.” The RID was closed for three weeks in May to save water for irrigation later in the year.
Dairies and air quality: Another perspective
(The following ‘Letter to the Editor’ appeared in response to a previous letter that placed blame on dairies for the Valley’s historic air quality challenges)
To the editor— Dr. Dean Effler’s Aug. 25 letter speaks to perception and not reality in regard to Valley air quality problems. A burn ban, reduced car emissions and work with the entire ag-industry collectively will address the Valley’s historical air quality problems. Recent foul air from the forest fires demonstrate that outside influences are a large part of the Yakima Valley air quality component from time to time.
New state-of-the-art air monitoring station at Sunnyside’s Harrison Middle School
In all due respect, the facts tell a much different story in regard to dairy contributions to air quality issues. The Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency (YRCAA) has been conducting regular dairy farm visits to improve air quality since the early 1990s when the Valley’s rich ag infrastructure and climate attracted more and larger dairy operations. Today the Valley’s dairy industry contributes an estimated $938 million to the Yakima Valley economy and employs more than 4,800 people, according to ag economist Dr. J. Shannon Neibergs, who divided out Yakima County from a 2011 WSU economic study.
Late last year, the YRCAA stated that Valley dairies deploy a “high degree of best management practices” when it comes to air quality. The agency regularly conducts dairy farm visits and air quality monitoring through the air quality program that all dairies must participate in. Agency engineers and compliance officers concluded that Valley dairies are implementing the approved Air Quality Management Policy in appropriate ways across eight required functional areas. These inspections continue along with air quality monitoring, including the agency’s new air quality monitor to measure fine particulate matter in the Sunnyside area. The monitor, located at Harrison Middle School, will gather data on particulate matter for a year. This data will help agencies and the ag industry better understand air quality for this particular region of the Valley.
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