Partnering with Dairies for Clean Water
California's dairy farmers lead the nation in production and make up the state's largest agricultural sector. Dairies contribute around $6 billion to the state's economy each year, and produce milk, cheese, ice cream and other products to feed people around the world. In the U.S., one of every five glasses of milk consumed comes from California.
But California's dairies are at risk unless they find ways to manage their manure in ways that protect clean water and the well-being of nearby communities. Of particular concern is nitrogen pollution from dairy manure -- one of the largest sources of groundwater contamination in California -- which spoils water sources used for drinking.
The problem is particularly acute in the Central Valley where a vast majority of the state's dairies reside and where the long-term application of cow manure to crops has resulted in extensive groundwater degradation. California is home to more cows than any other state -- with the state's nearly 2 million cows producing as much waste each year as California's entire human population. If not managed effectively, the resulting nitrogen poses a serious threat to water quality and the health of millions of Californians.
Sustainable Conservation is promoting sustainable farming methods that help dairies manage their manure in ways that benefit the environment and their businesses. We see the opportunity for farmers to integrate environmental protection directly into their day-to-day operations -- which not only helps satisfy intensifying water-quality regulations, but helps reduce their costs over time.
With our partners, Sustainable Conservation is working to identify, demonstrate and promote the widespread adoption of improved technologies and practices that simultaneously protect clean water, yield agricultural benefits and make economic sense for the industry to implement.
Key components of our strategy include:
- Partnering with Central Valley dairy farmers to implement practices and technologies that help them manage on-farm nutrients, namely cow waste, in ways that reduce nitrate leaching into surface water and groundwater.
- Pursuing new financial incentives to increase the implementation of local and regional solutions to nitrate pollution, including cost-share and performance-based programs that leverage funds from agencies.
- Developing regional solutions for exporting nitrogen. On-farm practices and technologies may not be enough to prevent future nitrogen contamination in some areas. In such cases, we will develop large-scale ways of exporting or treating excess nitrogen. This includes selling excess manure for use as commerical and residential fertilizer and scaling up a novel treatment system that converts nitrates in liquid dairy manure into a harmless gas.