Since the Dairy Nutrient Management Act was enacted into law in 1998, each of Washington’s 480 registered dairies have developed plans and worked to implement them as a way to avoid surface water discharges and mitigate elevated nitrate content in groundwater.
“Nutrient plans are not permits but road maps for dairy farmers to use to manage manure nutrients on an ongoing basis, rain or shine, ” said Ginny Prest, Dairy Nutrient Program Manager with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “From the initial start up 17 years ago, the progress dairy farmers are making has been phenomenal – from facilities, waste storage ponds, collecting silage, conveyance or export to record keeping. WSDA works closely with all dairy farmers, making farm visits and developing good communication.”
“I work with a great bunch of dairy producers in the Yakima Valley who are pretty progressive in how they manage manure nutrients,” said WSDA inspector Dan McCarty, who conducts routine dairy inspections in the Valley. “We walk through the facility to view any changes they have made to manure management and we’ve seen a lot of improvements and upgrades to manure handling systems during the past year. The new separator technology removes more nutrients, and there are more manure composting facilities that are processing and exporting to nurseries and even residential turf building suppliers. I go through a records review with them to examine manure export records, irrigation records, soil and manure nutrient samples to make certain they are applying nutrients (manure and commercial fertilizer) at agronomic rates to meet crop needs, which in turn, protects surface and ground water.”
Research studies confirm — and the experiences of farmers and landscapers support – how dairy manure compost improves crop growth and yields while increasing the soil’s water holding capacity from the time of application. Soil scientists at Michigan State University Extension report that for every 1 percent of organic dairy manure compost it contains, soil can hold 16,500 gallons of plant-available water per acre of soil down to one foot deep.
That is roughly 1.5 quarts of water per cubic foot of soil for each percent of organic matter. Increasing the organic matter content from 1 to 2 percent would increase the volume of water to 3 quarts per cubic foot of soil. Two studies from the Connecticut Department of Forestry and Agriculture found that dairy manure compost increased the water holding capacity of the soil, and helped all crops during summer droughts by reducing periods of water stress.
Practically speaking, says Russ Davis, president of Organix Inc., which makes and sells cow manure compost, cows are fed a lot of organic matter such as hay, alfalfa and corn so high volume organic matter is coming out in the form of manure. “Sandy soils like those found in central and eastern Washington are low in organic matter and don’t have the best water holding capacity,” he said. “Dairy compost is organic matter and nutrients the soil needs for production and water retention.”
The 3rd Annual Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger Project led by dairy farmers during June National Dairy Month provides cash and food donations to 2nd Harvest food banks, when demand for food increases as school breaks for the summer. More than 160,000 eastern Washington school children lose free/reduced lunch as most of them don’t have a way to access summer meal programs.
Last year’s Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger project generated 37,714 pounds of donated food and cash equivalents statewide. Cash donations can be made online at www.nwfarmersfightinghunger.org or cash/food donations can be made at any Fred Meyer store.
Separately, as part of the “Dairy for Life” program , dairy families donate 400 gallons of Darigold milk every week to 2nd Harvest’s Mobile Food Bank – which distributes perishable items to families and seniors in need. A free food distribution recently took place in Sunnyside.
In Washington state, 410,828 school children – almost half the students statewide – participate in public schools’ free/reduced breakfast and lunch programs.
The national school breakfast and lunch nutrition program follows building blocks for a healthy diet found in USDA’s My Plate dietary guidelines, according to Dairy Farmers of Washington Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Martha Marino. The important thing to note is that most school children will miss out on good nutrition – fruits, veggies and milk — from school breakfast/lunch programs during summer months.
Washington State Dairy Products Commission: Dairy farming thriving in Washington
BY TOM DEVRIES/President of the Yakima Dairy Federation
Dairy farming thrives in Washington because of its ideal climate for dairy cows, outstanding infrastructure systems for milk storage and processing, transportation and support businesses for maintenance, and dairy cow health care. Dairy farmers are deploying best practices for cow health care, manure nutrient management, developing nutrient-rich fertilizers through manure composting, and giving back to the community in meaningful ways.
Exports to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East have increased demand for Washington dairy products – primarily dry milk powder and cheese. Washington dairy products are providing much-needed nutrition to countries in parts of the world where climate, feed supply, and insufficient water and land availability prevents effective dairy production. This year, Darigold’s Sunnyside plant alone will export $110 million of cheese and whey. The U.S Department of Agriculture and Washington State University economists say that of the state’s $1.3 billion dairy industry, an estimated $938 million from farm gate milk and beef production goes back into the Yakima Valley economy. The Darigold plant processes about 5 million pounds of milk per day into cheese. Darigold nonfat dry milk and skim milk powders come from extracting water, while retaining all the calcium and nine nutrients of fluid milk. Darigold exports 340 million pounds of dairy products every year, increasing every year since Darigold entered the export market in 1984.
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.