This op-ed ran in the Press-Republican on October 27, 2022. Click here to visit the Press-Republican website.
As an industry, dairy farmers committed to a net-zero emissions goal in 2020 known as the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative. That’s in addition to the goals and efforts of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) we’re all working toward here in New York State.
However, making an effort to reduce our carbon footprint is not a new concept. For generations, farms have been laser-focused on recycling and reusing materials to reduce emissions while at the same time cutting costs that improve the viability and longevity of the family business.
In Clinton County, 98 percent of farms are family-owned, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture. These multi-generational farms work with their local soil and water district, state agencies, and industry experts to ensure they’re taking the necessary steps to protect our land, air, and waterways.
Dairy farmers have no control over the price of our milk. Our prices are set by Federal Milk Marketing Orders, and we find out what we’re being paid weeks after milk has left the farm. So, if we can innovate or recycle materials to continue reinvesting in our people, our farm business, and our community – we jump at the opportunity.
Earlier this year we announced a new partnership with Suburban Propane to construct, own and operate a new anaerobic digester system. There are many benefits to anaerobic digesters, including utilizing manure through a natural biogenic process. Micro-organisms inside the digester break manure down into two forms – biogas and digestate. The gas is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used as a clean form of renewable energy. The digestate can then be separated further into solid materials used for soft cow bedding and a nutrient-rich liquid that can be applied in the fields as natural fertilizer.
In September, we had the privilege of hosting NYSERDA Commissioner Doreen Harris, Department Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball, and leaders from the Department of Environmental Conservation at Adirondack Farms. We discussed the importance of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and how farmers are playing an active role in working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using digesters when able, and enlisting numerous other environmental stewardship practices to meet our climate goals.
In addition to digesters, we have several other regenerative practices that help us cut fuel use, protect water quality, and reduce emissions on family farms. Cover crops are a great way to improve soil and water health in the fields. Farms have been using cover crops for generations because they support soil structure and integrity while helping to prevent runoff and erosion. Rather than spreading natural fertilizer directly on top of the ground, we inject the manure into the soil using dragline systems. This helps us reduce road traffic, odor, and fuel usage, while improving the efficiency of how the nutrients are applied in the field.
In fact, our cows are some of the best recyclers on the farm. Cows recycle carbon back into our atmosphere through a natural process known as the biogenic cycle. Our surrounding fields and cropland are primed to utilize that carbon which is then captured by plants and stored in the soil. We’re also able to recycle their manure into cow bedding, renewable energy, and natural fertilizer. Our cows are active participants on the farm helping us reduce our carbon footprint, which is why agriculture accounts for barely 6% of emissions in New York State. A number that we work every day to continue to reduce.
These efforts, along with many other management practices on our farms are helping meet both the state and dairy industry’s climate goals. We look forward to strengthening relationships with state leaders and hosting more tours of the farm to ensure agriculture remains part of the solution to curbing climate change.
– Jon Rulfs and Shane St. Cyr are co-owners of Adirondack Farms