Why Dairy Farms?
Dairy Farms and Sustainability
Western Washington's dairy tradition stretches back a century, but does the industry have a future? We at Farm Power believe that milk production is one of the most sustainable agricultural activities possible; better yet, it also allows for production of renewable energy.
Unlike most other forms of agriculture, dairy farms can be self-sufficient in nutrients. The manure from one cow contains enough nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the three numbers measured on fertilizer bags) to grow the crops that feed her. Most other crops depend on manufactured nutrients; the natural gas used to make fertilizer for just one acre of Midwestern corn could heat a house for a month.
Individual dairy farms in Western Washington have not grown as large as those in the Southwest. Most farmers in our region still work directly with their cows every day, preserving the spirit of the family farm. Not being big enough to vertically integrate, these medium-sized dairies also depend on other local businesses and keep money moving through the community year-round. They provide living-wage jobs independent of seasonal layoffs.
Food Versus Fuel
Producing renewable energy from manure does not reduce food supply. While renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel currently divert carbohydrates and oils from the food chain, anaerobic digesters thrive on a wide range of organic wastes that have no food value.
Dairy farms produce more usable food per acre than many other types of agriculture. The milk from one cow can supply all the protein needs of a dozen people.
Most of a cow's nutrition needs are met in Western Washington. Farmers chop grass and corn silage from fields near their farms, importing some remaining feed as alfalfa (from Eastern Washington) and dry grain (from the Midwest).
The Holstein and Jersey cows that produce most of the country's milk prefer temperate climates like Western Washington. This is one of the reasons why the state has the highest milk production per cow. High milk production also shows that regional cows experience very low levels of stress that can otherwise result from crowding or discomfort.