Three Skagit dairy farmers were visited by Rep. Rick Larsen to highlight federal funds applied to manure management. According to this story by Skagit Valley Herald reporter Jaqueline Allison and published in Idaho’s Intermountain Farm and Ranch, Wesen’s organic dairy, VanderKooy’s Harmony Dairy and Dwayne Faber’s dairy farm benefited from federal funding including through the Skagit Conservation District.

Wesen’s organic dairy near Bow is using these funds to install cattle walkways which will allow the cattle to expand time spent in the field grazing. Because organic dairies are required to pasture their cows so that at least 30% of their diet comes from pasture, in Western Washington that can pose risks of water contamination. Few of those away from farms realize that organic dairy farming adds some environmental risks avoided by containing animals in comfortable bedding areas. The “confined” areas allow for complete collection of manure which enables efficient application of nutrients to crops as organic fertilizer while preventing runoff or uncontrolled application to fields which can contaminate water. The cow walkways referenced will help the organic dairy be more protective of water as is now accomplished by non-organic dairies that keep cows contained and off the wet fields.

The “Sand Cannon” referenced (shown in the accompanying photo at the Appel Farms dairy farm near Ferndale, WA) is another example of using technology to enhance environmental performance. Sand is the preferred bedding material for cows as they rest in comfortable barns. But as the cows excrete the sand needs to be replaced. The sand cannon separates the manure from the sand allowing it to be reused for bedding and the manure to be used as organic fertilizer to grow crops.

This story highlights what dairy critics fail to mention: new technologies are rapidly improving the ability of farmers to manage the manure produced by their animals, enabling ever more efficient use as a very valuable fertilizer. This makes it easier and more efficient to meet Washington State’s stringent dairy nutrient (manure) management laws and regulations that allow for ZERO release of manure into streams or surface water while also preventing over-application of nutrients to fields to prevent groundwater contamination.