Dairy and Sustainability: An interview with Paul Gross
The Dairy Dish interviewed Paul Gross, an Extension Educator with Michigan State University (MSUE)-Isabella County, about what Michigan dairy farmers are doing to farm in an environmentally sound, sustainable manner. Paul provides specific examples to expand on my previous post that explains why dairy foods are an eco-friendly choice.
The Dairy Dish: What is the scope of your job with MSUE?
Paul: I work with the Great Lakes Cover Crop Initiative in partnership with Purdue University and Ohio State University as the Lake Huron coordinator. I help farmers increase cover crop acreage and work with tillage. I also work with bioenergy crops—to produce different types of crops to be used as biofuel.
The Dairy Dish: How do you help dairy farmers care for the environment and practice sustainable farming methods?
Paul: I work on the crop side of dairy farming. I help dairy farmers optimize crop production by implementing sustainable practices such as the use of cover crops. Using cover crops, such as oilseed radish and oats, builds organic matter and root mass in the soil and keeps the soil covered which reduces erosion, minimizes tillage, increases the fertility and water-holding capacity of soil, and reduces water use, fertilizer use and energy use. Cover crop use by dairy farmers has increased tremendously.
Agriculture is a huge carbon sink: Farmland can absorb more carbon than it releases when managed properly. The carbon is sequestered in the soil and stored there as organic matter. When carbon stays in the soil, the farm’s carbon footprint decreases.
The Dairy Dish: Can you share some examples of what in particular the dairy farmers you work with are doing?
Paul: One of dairy farm families I work with has a no-till farm. The manure is managed by using a drag hose to inject the manure under the soil. The manure application is based on soil and feed tests and is applied within the guidelines of the comprehensive nutrient management plan.
Another farmer surface-applies manure and then plants cover crops of oilseed radish and oats over it. I’m seeing a lot more cover crop usage before and after manure application. The roots grab the nutrients from the manure and hold them in the soil and utilize them for multiple years so there’s no manure run-off.
The Dairy Dish: Overall, what are your thoughts about dairy farming, the environment and sustainability?
Paul: The biggest surprise that the non-farming community has when visiting a dairy farm is the technology dairy farmers use: the precision application of manure, the testing, and the computerization such as the electronic chips hung around the cows’ necks to monitor their health. People are also amazed at how dairy farms are so much more efficient—they use less water, land, energy, and protect the environment as best they can. More and more farms are having energy audits and implementing practices that reduce energy use.
Dairy farmers are reducing fossil fuel use and sequestering carbon—just to name a few best practices—to reduce the factors that influence climate change.
Paul Gross explains how dairy farmers are the original stewards of the land.
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