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Dairies

Advancing farming methods to help California dairies manage their manure in ways that protect clean water, yield agricultural benefits and make economic sense for the industry to implement.

From the Sustainable Conservation Blog

Turning Cow Waste into an Asset – A Work in Progress

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Cows looking into the camera

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.

Results

Sustainable Conservation, in partnership with California’s dairy industry, has:

  • Prevented 400 million pounds of manure — and four million pounds of nitrogen — from polluting water sources, including drinking and irrigation water
  • Conserved nine million gallons of groundwater by using recycled manure water to grow crops
  • Saved producers tens of thousands of dollars in fertilizer costs

Looking at the camera

California’s nearly 2 million dairy cows produce 65 billion pounds of waste each year — as much as the state’s entire human population. The nitrates in manure can pollute water sources millions of Californians depend on.

Improving California’s Water Quality

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.