Thoughts about Sustainability and Economics in the Dairy Industry

Open pastures, green grasses, quiet trees, blue skies, and grazing cows – that’s what I envision when I think of ideal agriculture. My research over the years has exposed me to the stark reality of the agricultural industry. The goal is to feed as many people as possible by using economically friendly methods. This mindset/goal often disregards the sustainable, moral, and environmental aspects of production. 

I regularly visit an eco-dairy farm in Pennsylvania that focuses on ethical and sustainable farming, but I never visited a conventional commercial dairy farm. On my first week of GSA, we visited VT’s Kentland Farms. We toured the dairy science complex and learned about the recycling programs, how the cows are bred, what the cows are fed, and the technology that’s used in dairy production. I thought that the sand recycling program was very interesting because it helped keep the barn relatively clean, and it was economically and environmentally friendly. I also liked the milking parlor because it was very quick and efficient. I understand that Kentland’s practices are good economically but one could argue that they are not sustainable. Amy Quinton from UC Davis stated that “Cattle are the No. 1 agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide.” They contribute more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry! Cattle and dairy farming is not very sustainable, especially in the future. The resources that go into raising cattle (producing beef and dairy) such as water and wheat could be better spent on directly feeding the human population. It would also be more environmentally friendly. 

In the future, I hope that we can focus on the ethical aspects of livestock production such as giving them more space and a less stressful environment (these two factors could potentially produce more dairy and reduce the livestock’s environmental impact). I also hope that we can spend more time researching sustainable farming practices that reduce cattle/livestock production and increase crop farming.

-mn

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