By Laura Hardie
Soil health is crucial to the health of our water and food supply, especially as our global population is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050.
There are lots of environmental groups who work tirelessly to save our soil and water. When you think about these groups, you may not think of dairy farmers. Still, farmers are major conservationists.
While there are skeptics out there who think dairy farmers only care about their bottom line, that’s simply not true. Dairy farmers live on the land they farm. They understand the importance of protecting our natural resources.
My parents and my brother run a dairy farm in northern Vermont. I never worked on the farm so when I talk with them and other farmers in the area about how their business is going, I learn so much.
Here are four ways farmers are saving our soil and water:
1. Many farm fields are now covered with plants all year long, even in the winter. It’s called cover cropping and it is amazing for soil. (UVM Extension and three Vermont farmer environmental group created a video that explains the benefits of cover crops.)
2. The soil on each field is tested for the nutrient content regularly. Farmers use this data to figure out how much additional nutrients the field needs, in the form of manure, to be healthy.
3. Farmers use high-tech equipment to inject manure up to 12-inches underground to feed the soil much-needed nutrients. The process prevents those nutrients from leaving the field when it rains. Watch this UVM Extension video:
4. Dairy farms recycle the water used on the farm many times. They collect rainwater from barns. They reuse the water that cools down the milk as water for the cows to drink. They also reuse the water used to clean the barn to irrigate the fields. Today, dairy farmers use 65 percent less water to make the same gallon of milk compared with 1944.
More than one billion people will celebrate Earth Day all around the world on April 22. But Vermont farmers treat every day like Earth Day.
-Laura Hardie is a seventh-generation Vermonter from Waterbury and works as a public relations and communications specialist for the New England Dairy Promotion Board.