8 Ways Michigan Dairy Farms Support Sustainable Nutrition

Michigan dairy farmers are driving sustainable nutrition by focusing on forward-thinking goals and eco-friendly practices.

Sustainable nutrition is a topic that is gaining a lot more traction, and for good reason. An increasing number of consumers are considering how their food choices affect the environment.

Michigan’s dairy farmers have been at the forefront of this discussion, aligning their practices with the U.S. Dairy Industry Sustainability Goals for 2050. This includes becoming carbon neutral or better, optimizing water use and improving water quality through responsible manure and nutrient management.

That means Michigan’s dairy industry is not just a key player in the state’s economy but also a pioneer in sustainable nutrition.

“We know a lot more about sustainability at the farm level than most companies in other sectors because it’s what we do every day,” says Paul Windemuller of Dream Winds Dairy in Coopersville, Michigan.

Here are eight ways that Michigan dairy farms support sustainable nutrition:

1. Environmental efforts

Michigan’s dairy farmers have made remarkable strides in reducing their environmental impact. Compared to 70 years ago, producing a gallon of milk now requires 65% less water, 90% less land and generates 76% less manure. The carbon footprint of milk has diminished by 63%, showcasing the industry’s commitment to eco-friendly practices.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions

Contrary to misconceptions, U.S. dairy farms contribute only 2% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, cows play a unique role in recycling carbon.

Here’s how it works: The CO2 in the atmosphere is converted by plants into carbohydrates. The cows eat and digest the plants, producing milk, manure and methane gas. The milk produced feeds humans, the manure nourishes the soil and the methane becomes CO2. This renewable cycle sustains humans, animals and the environment.

How Michigan dairy farms provide sustainable nutrition

3. Water

Responsible water use is a crucial way that Michigan dairy farms support sustainable nutrition. There has been more than a 65% reduction in the water footprint over the past few decades. Farming techniques, such as the use of cover crops that help manage soil erosion, quality and water use, have made a big impact. Plus, on-farm water recycling contributes to protecting Michigan’s waterways and the Great Lakes.

“A lot of farmers are using water as much as three or four times,” says Cami Marz-Evans of Evans Dairy Farm in Litchfield, Michigan. For example, this may include recycling the water from plate coolers used to cool milk.

 “…It’s important to assure consumers that we are already doing a lot of the [sustainability] things that we need to do,” Marz-Evans explains.

4. Upcycling

Dairy cows are not just consumers, they are also recyclers. By feeding cows leftovers that would otherwise end up in landfills, farmers reduce waste while also creating nutrient-rich milk. For example, cotton seeds, used by the textile industry, can be used as nutrition for cows. Using biodegradable materials on farms whenever possible is another example of upcycling.

5. Manure/nutrient management

Dairy cow manure, often considered waste, serves as a natural fertilizer, enriching the soil and reducing the need for chemical alternatives. “We use LED light bulbs, recycle our sand bedding, plant cover crops and use sustainable cropping practices like using manure as a fertilizer source,” says Marz-Evans.

Thought leaders in the dairy industry are seeking more uses for animal waste, such as energy production.

6. Cow care

Healthy cows are essential for successful dairy farming and sustainable nutrition. Michigan farmers prioritize the well-being of their animals by providing clean and comfortable housing, consistent access to fresh food and water and prompt medical attention.

7. Human health & wellness

No doubt about it: Dairy foods are one of the best forms of sustainable nutrition. Nutrient-rich dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt are important elements of a healthy diet for people of all ages. 

In fact, dairy remains one of the easiest ways to get vital nutrients such as calcium, Vitamin D and protein into your diet. Plus, a diet rich in dairy is linked to reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and improved bone health. Dairy foods like yogurt have been proven to boost gut and immune health.

8. Michigan milk

Michigan’s dairy industry is a cornerstone of the state’s agriculture. With about 900 family-owned dairy farms, Michigan produces more than enough milk to meet local demand. This not only supports the local economy but also ensures that consumers are buying quality, locally sourced dairy products. 

Plus, when milk is local, the reduced travel time, expense and carbon footprint boost overall sustainability.

Brian DeMann of Clearview Dairy Farm in Martin, Michigan, believes that what he and his fellow dairy farmers do now will have a positive impact on the farmers of the future. “I think we’re going to be able to connect with upcoming generations by driving change through innovation.”

For more information about Michigan dairy farms, sustainability, dairy nutrition and more, visit milkmeansmore.org. Plus, learn more about healthy eating at Metro Parent.

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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