By Mary Hookham, for the Dairy Business Association
Sustainability is something the farming community hears a lot about — often described as making people, profits and the planet the priorities.
That can seem overwhelming for dairy farmers as they try to make money, understand what customers want, protect water quality and tell the community about what they do and why.
Panelists at a Dairy Strong conference session Jan. 22 in Madison, Wis., talked about the importance of a unique sustainability plan, one grounded in partnerships.
“Farming has to be economically viable at the end of the day,” said Cody Carpenter of Redrock View Farms, a dairy in southwestern Wisconsin. “We have to try to find strategic partners to make conservation practices economically viable.”
Carpenter and the other panelists are part of the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance (DSSA), an organization that supports farmer-led solutions to environmental challenges taking into account business viability and community engagement.
Tools used to measure environmental sustainability on farms vary. Agencies and programs exist to help farmers, and educational events can get customers involved in the process.
Colleen Geurts of Schreiber Foods, Inc., said measuring conservation results on farms is important so farmers can show, rather than tell, people of their progress.
Greg Siegenthaler of Grande Cheese said transparency is the best approach.
“We need to deliver science-based facts,” he said. “It takes the entire supply chain to tell the story of agriculture.”
Wes Garner of GLC Minerals uses DSSA to help his company invest in water quality in his community.
“My family and I play in the water,” Garner said. “We drink and use it for business. It’s critical to our world and to our economy, and by supporting this and dairy sustainability, when one industry succeeds, we all succeed.”
Doug Thomas of Houston Engineering, Inc., has learned the importance of being proactive. Going above and beyond is necessary both in agriculture and for conservation organizations.
“Our association in DSSA exemplifies our proactive approach,” Thomas said.
Carpenter sees the value in cost-share programs as incentives for farmers to try new conservation methods. But he’s not looking for a handout. His goal is to make a value-added product that will satisfy customers, grow his margin and pay for his environmental sustainability efforts.
In the end, the environment and economics need to align.
We need economic viability to be able to implement these practices on our farms,” he said.