Dairy farming thrives in Washington because of its ideal climate for dairy cows, outstanding infrastructure systems for milk storage and processing, transportation and support businesses for maintenance, and dairy cow health care. Dairy farmers are deploying best practices for cow health care, manure nutrient management, developing nutrient-rich fertilizers through manure composting, and giving back to the community in meaningful ways.
Exports to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East have increased demand for Washington dairy products — primarily dry milk powder and cheese.
Washington dairy products are providing much-needed nutrition to countries in parts of the world where climate, feed supply, and insufficient water and land availability prevents effective dairy production. This year, Darigold’s Sunnyside plant alone will export $110 million of cheese and whey. The U.S Department of Agriculture and Washington State University economists say that of the state’s $1.3 billion dairy industry, an estimated $938 million from farm gate milk and beef production goes back into the Yakima Valley economy.
The Darigold plant processes about 5 million pounds of milk per day into cheese. Darigold nonfat dry milk and skim milk powders come from extracting water, while retaining all the calcium and nine nutrients of fluid milk. Darigold exports 340 million pounds of dairy products every year, increasing every year since Darigold entered the export market in 1984.
Funded in part by Idaho and Washington dairy farm organizations, the Northwest Bovine Veterinary Experience Program is a joint project of Washington State University and the University of Idaho to provide student veterinarians on-farm experiences with large animal health care. Dr. Gordon Brumbaugh DVM, Ph.D., Northwest Bovine Veterinary Experience Program director and veterinary scientist, says the dairy-funded program opens veterinary students’ eyes to large animal health care and the production of food.
Conservation District nutrient management specialists and WSU scientists provide ongoing professional development courses and workshops for dairy farmers and custom applicators to ensure water and air quality control, among other topics. The voluntary courses are funded by the Washington Department of Agriculture and dairy industry grants. The courses teach dairy farmers about topics of regulation, nutrient manure cycling, crop production, lagoon maintenance, real-time manure use risk-management tools, and the production of byproducts.
Since the first anaerobic livestock manure digester was developed in 2001, there are 100 digesters in operation in 16 states with more under construction. Digesters convert methane from manure nutrients into biogas to fuel an engine that generates electric power. Scrubbed biogas can be used as natural gas, while other byproducts include bedding for cows and odor-free, nutrient-rich fertilizers.
Composted livestock manure produces an organic nutrient-rich fertilizer that helps crops and pasture grass production over longer durations before the need for reapplication because of its slow release of nutrients. Dairy cow manure is a nutrient-rich, all-natural fertilizer that holds moisture in the soil and reduces erosion more effectively than synthetic or chemical fertilizers say experts in biological systems engineering.
The WSU Extension is modeling digestion and composting systems at many Washington dairy operations to help ensure the integrity of lined lagoons, and to ensure protocols are followed to apply nutrient rich manure as compost fertilizer for the production of crops and pastures at appropriate rates to protect groundwater quality.
Dairy farmers are giving back to the community in many ways too. Milk is a nutritious and perishable product that is in high demand for low-income families, said food bank managers. Spearheaded by Central Washington dairy farmers, the “Dairy for Life” program was created to meet a need and donates more than 400 gallons of milk to Second Harvest Tri-Cities each week. Dairy farmers led the annual Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger project that donated more than 90,000 pounds of food/cash equivalent during June dairy month to benefit Feeding America affiliates Food Lifeline and Second Harvest.
Although the practice of dairy farming is ever changing, it remains a seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year job. Central Washington dairy farmers, together with their peers across the state, improve their operations with science-based best practices, care for their animals and continue to give back to their communities.