USDA lacks policy alignment for true food systems transformation

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Many people have become rather disillusioned with the prospect of progress in American politics. I often feel the same way, but today, I’m here with more government praise than criticism — for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), out of all agencies.

Last week, the USDA announced a new Food System Transformation framework with a $2.2 billion investment across food value chains. This announcement follows the $1 billion investment in climate-smart commodity pilot projects announced in February and the $700 million pandemic relief grant package for small food, agriculture and fisheries businesses launched last fall. 

With all this movement, the agency is starting to chart a new course for sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. 

Innovation Center For U.S. Dairy announces 2022 Sustainability Award Winners

The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards program recognized a class of seven exceptional farms, businesses and partnerships for their socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound practices and technologies that have a broad and positive impact.

This year’s winners displayed excellence in areas such as methane and other greenhouse gas reduction practices as well as water use efficiencies that support the industrywide 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals.

The awards, hosted by the farmer-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, have recognized more than 80 winners from nearly 300 nominees since their creation in 2012.

“This year’s winners exemplify how forward-thinking and regenerative efforts across the entire supply chain have led to positive results and what it means to be an environmental solution,” said Barbara O’Brien, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “Considered collectively, these stories of success serve as examples of all the good things U.S. dairy is doing for planetary health and why the aggressive goals we have set are within reach.”

The awards are judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts who consider innovation, scalability and replicability when evaluating nominations. Among the criteria to apply for the awards is participation and good standing in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program and agreement to participate in the FARM Environmental Stewardship online tool for determining their GHG and energy footprint. Both initiatives are part of the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment, U.S. dairy’s social responsibility pledge to consumers, customers and other stakeholders.

“As a dairy farmer, I understand the importance of community and being a true caretaker of the environment that surrounds our farm and these winners demonstrate these values to their neighbors every day,” said Marilyn Hershey, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and chair of the Dairy Management Inc. board of directors. “These all are solution- and results-oriented businesses who are not only making meaningful contributions locally but to the U.S. dairy industry overall.”

The 2022 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards winners are:

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Deer Run Dairy, Kewaunee, Wisconsin
At Deer Run Dairy, farming is a continuous learning process. Partners Duane Ducat, Derek Ducat and Dale Bogart actively participate in Wisconsin’s Demonstration Farm Network and Discovery Research program. The region’s topography, shallow soils and proximity to Lake Michigan pose water quality challenges, and the partners have implemented numerous conservation practices to protect the water and to improve soil health. As big believers in the value of cover crops, they set and achieved a goal to seed 100% of their cropland with cover crops in the fall of 2021. Additional goals encompass the entire 1,850-cow operation, including minimal antibiotic use and feeding trials to reduce methane gas production in the rumen of the cow. All goals ladder up to the ability to be a profitable business on land that is sustained for generations to come. 

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Grayhouse Farms, Inc., Stony Point, North Carolina
When it came time to build a new dairy five years ago, Jimmy and Andy Gray designed a dairy that is, as Jimmy calls it, “conservation and efficiency by design” with dozens of water and soil conservation practices in use. The flush manure management and sand separation system allows sand to be recycled nearly 100 times, and a four-stage lagoon is designed to best utilize nutrients and water. The facility for their 1,120 cows was also built to maximize cow comfort, from ventilation and fans to rubber matting, sprinklers and sand bedding. Soil conservation practices include GPS placement of nutrients, cover crops, filter strips and 100% no-till farming. Land that is not well-suited for farming is cared for with an equal amount of attention to wildlife conservation. “We understand that we hold the title of this property, but we are the caretakers, and we must be vigilant in how we farm,” says Jimmy. 

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Steve and Cheryl Schlangen Dairy Farm, Albany, Minnesota
Steve and Cheryl Schlangen’s mindset of continuous improvement is a way of life on their 60-cow, 200-acre farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. They count more than 30 conservation practices, from LED lighting and cover crops to a manure-stacking slab that prevents nutrient leaching into the water and a manure injection system that uses less time, less fuel and has virtually eliminated the need for commercial fertilizer on their crops. Their enthusiasm for sharing ideas and results with others has earned them a national reputation as leaders in regenerative agriculture. Schlangen Dairy provides a blueprint for beginning farmers and generational farms to follow.

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Bar 20, Kerman, California
Bar 20 Dairy’s on-farm energy investments have added up big for the environment. LED bulbs provide lighting in all the barns, reducing the demand for electricity by 75%. Two solar array installations provide electricity for the dairy barn and offset power usage of the farming operation. A dairy digester captures methane from the 7,000-cow herd and converts it into renewable electricity via fuel cells. Through a partnership with BMW North America, the combustion-free, dairy-derived electricity is transmitted via the utility grid to power electric vehicles. The methane emission reductions at the farm, when combined with the renewable energy generation, result in carbon emission reductions equivalent to providing clean power to over 17,000 electric vehicles per year. Electricity generated by the fuel cells also powers a feed mixing system, replacing diesel and reducing smog-forming emissions by 90%.

Outstanding Dairy Processing Sustainability: Milk Specialties Global, Monroe, Wisconsin
A whey processing project at Milk Specialties Global (MSG) demonstrates how making one change can deliver sustainability benefits across the supply chain. To meet surging demand for dairy protein in foods and beverages, MSG acquired a plant in Monroe to collect and process whey, a by-product of cheesemaking, into whey proteins. However, the whey supply from local cheesemakers far outweighed processing capacity. Instead of trucking the whey to a larger plant, MSG found a way to double capacity at the plant without increasing the facility’s footprint. Artisanal cheesemakers saw a waste product turn into a revenue stream. The local community benefitted too: Truck miles decreased by 237,232 miles, saving 47,446 gallons of diesel fuel and reducing GHG emissions by 486 metric tons; 2.9 million gallons of water are now reclaimed and returned to the local watershed; and more than 53,000 pounds of whey protein is produced annually to fuel athletes and animals around the globe.

Outstanding Community Impact: Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA) is a community of more than 900 dairy farm families. With 90% of these located within the critical Chesapeake Bay watershed, the cooperative recognizes its responsibility to bring environmental solutions to its members and their communities. Through supply chain and partnerships with corporations, customers, and conservation non-profits, they have delivered more than $19 million in funds to make meaningful sustainability investments on member farms. To drive community impact, volunteers from MDVA and its partners participate in events such as planting riparian buffers on dairy farms and trash pick-ups along waterways. Planting riparian buffers helps protect critical waterways far beyond the reach of the farm, while also exposing people throughout the dairy supply chain to agriculture.

Outstanding Supply Chain Sustainability: Bel Brands, Land O’Lakes Inc., Boadwine Dairy
This multi-year program is designed to demonstrate the value of feed production practices that improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports Bel Brands’ and Land O’Lakes’ shared ambitions to improve sustainable farming practices and reduce dairy’s environmental footprint. The project provides cost incentives, access to resources and expertise, and the use of the Truterra™ Insights Engine to participating farms. The first pilot took place on Boadwine Dairy, a member-owner of Land O’Lakes, where efforts to improve soil health have been ongoing for more than ten years, and is being expanded to dairy farms ranging in size from 450 to 2,000 cows in two regions.

A formal celebration of the winners is scheduled in conjunction with the Dairy Sustainability Alliance® Fall Meeting, Nov. 14-15, in Glendale, Arizona.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® is a forum that brings together the dairy community to address the changing needs and expectations of consumers through a framework of shared best practices and accountability. Initiated in 2008 by dairy farmers through the dairy checkoff, we collaborate on efforts that are important both to us and our valued customers in areas like animal care, food safety, nutrition and health, the environment and community contributions. Through the Innovation Center, the U.S. dairy community demonstrates its commitment to continuous improvement from farm to table, striving to ensure a socially responsible and economically viable dairy community.

Climate change and human exploitation to blame for historic decline in Atlantic Salmon

Read the full story from the University of Southampton.

Research has revealed that an abrupt change in climate conditions in the North Atlantic around 800 years ago played a role in a decline in Atlantic salmon populations returning to rivers. Subsequent human exploitation of salmon combined to reduce their populations still further.

How not to count salmon

Read the full story from ProPublica.

Data reporter Irena Hwang thought counting fish to evaluate the hatchery system in the Pacific Northwest sounded like a fun project. That was before she started asking biologists about what the publicly available data could really tell us.

There’s a nationwide Sriracha shortage, and climate change may be to blame

Read the full story from NPR.

Sorry, Sriracha fans, your favorite hot sauce is running out nationwide.

The company that makes Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods, wrote in an email to customers in late April that it will have to stop making the sauce for the next few months due to “severe weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers.”

A heat wave’s lamented victim: The mango, India’s king of fruits

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Blistering spring temperatures have devastated crops of the country’s most beloved fruit. “The soul of a farmer shudders at seeing these fruitless trees,” one grower said.

Food waste to feed and biogas at dairy farm

Read the full story in Biocycle.

Ar-Joy Farms in southeastern Pennsylvania receives produce for animal feed and source separated organics and high strength liquids for anaerobic digestion.

Capturing carbon with crops, trees and bioenergy

Read the full story from Michigan State University.

MSU researchers find an integrated approach to land management practices can reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere far more than earlier estimates.

Uncovering best practices for cover crops to optimize production

Read the full story from the Soil Science Society of America.

Planting cover crops like cereal rye is a beneficial agricultural practice. One of their many benefits is to cover soil for times when farmers cannot plant cash crops like corn and soy – over the winter, for example. But it is not as simple as just growing cover crops in between growing seasons. Farmers have multiple decisions to make about optimizing cover crop production.

Researchers like Heidi Reed at Pennsylvania State University want to help farmers make the best decisions about their cover crops. In a recent study, Reed and her team looked at the impact of cereal rye seeding rate, termination time, and nitrogen rate. The study was published in Agronomy Journal, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy.

After millennia of agricultural expansion, the world has passed ‘peak agricultural land’

Read the full story at Our World In Data.

The world produces more food than ever, but the amount of land we use is now falling. This means we can feed more people while restoring wild habitat.