Improvement journey: Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance
Monday, June 5, 2017
Posted by: Maria Woldt, director of industry relations
In agriculture, “continuous improvement” is a simple concept — and certainly nothing new to today’s farmers. Simply put, you are always working to do things better today than you did yesterday.
The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance (DSSA), launched last August, has brought DBA together with several other groups to coalesce around that simple concept. The DSSA creates a structure for farmers, processors and ultimately retailers to document their improvements and then amplify the results to create a deeper understanding of sustainable agriculture with our customers.
Continuous improvement applies to many areas — animal welfare, soil and water conservation, nutrient management, milk quality and more. Until recently, we have relied heavily on anecdotes rather than data to show how the dairy community is more sustainable than ever. But there is always something that every farm can do to improve.
Small improvements matter
On a personal level, my husband Nick and I participated in a pilot project using the new FARM Environmental Stewardship module through our milk co-op Foremost Farms USA. This tool is a great starting point and was a good fit for us because we have a small herd and lease our facility. After we imputed some basic information about milk production, crops and utilities, we could see where we ranked among our peers on a regional and national level. Areas where we could improve were indicated on our final report and we were directed toward resources.
Given our farming situation, we are not able to make large capital improvements, but we have set a goal to buy a larger bulk tank to reduce our hauling. We also hope to transition to bunkers to discontinue using silage bags. It’s something small – but many small improvements add up to big ones.
There are several tools in the DSSA toolbox to help farmers across Wisconsin better document their improvements. In addition to the FARM Environmental Stewardship module, another common tool is SNAP Plus. SNAP is used in nutrient management planning and focuses on the crop and manure side of dairy farming. Other tools are available based on desired measurements.
In all cases, farmers work with field representatives, certified crop advisers or other professionals to input and interpret the data. In some cases, farmers can enter data on their own. The program is completely voluntary and individual results are kept private. Only aggregate data is reported.
About 80 percent of dairy’s carbon footprint occurs at the farm level, but there are other areas like processing, transportation and retail that also play a role. The DSSA supports projects at the farm level and with processing and retail. An ideal DSSA project supports a “milkshed” concept where farms measure progress right alongside their processor and other players in the supply chain.
Process improvement on the dairy processing side leads to efficiency, safety and positive environmental outcomes. Like farms, quantifying how dairy processors are improving is critical to dairy sustainability. Oversupply is a common reality for most dairy processors these days, and measuring certain sustainability indicators can lead to cost savings and possibly added income. If dairy processors can remain profitable, market access for farms is more stable.
The DSSA looks for the “win-wins” of sustainability. For a farmer or processor to fully embrace change, there needs to be positive outcomes for our environment, animals and community and a strong business case to support doing things differently. The DSSA supports innovation over regulation.
If you would like to learn more about the DSSA or are interested in participating in a pilot project near you, please contact me at 608-577-4345 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our website dairystrong.org/sustainability.