These producers put sustainability to work
The buzz around sustainability continues to grow. And while there is an end goal of creating a more viable dairy sector for years to come, reaching that point looks different for every producer.
During the Vita Plus Midwest Dairy Conference on June 14, three dairy producers spoke candidly about their farm’s green initiatives and their long-term plans in creating sustainable businesses for themselves and their greater communities.
“Agriculture is taken for granted by the general public, and that’s part of the reason we do the things on our farm,” Jeff Endres said. “Everybody has a story to tell, a good story to tell. We’ve all been making a difference and doing it for years, but we’ve not been doing a good job of taking credit for it.”
Endres and his family operate Endres Berryridge Farms LLC in south central Wisconsin. He was joined alongside Chuck Ripp of Ripp’s Dairy Valley LLC, also in south central Wisconsin, and Suzanne Vold of Dorrich Dairy in western Minnesota during the conference’s producer panel. The panel was moderated by Vita Plus employee Laura Zagorski.
Both Endres and Ripp are members of Yahara Pride Farms, a producer-run organization that focuses on promoting and educating both producers and consumers on economically sound conservation practices that improve water quality in the Yahara Watershed.
“There are numerous organizations now in other watersheds that have come out of Yahara Pride’s efforts, and we’re proud to see that,” Ripp said. “Getting involved is a good way to talk about your farm and provide a good perspective. You don’t have to do every practice, but start small and be a part of it.”
Ripp’s Dairy Valley LLC recycles manure with digester
For more than a decade, Ripp’s farm has participated in a community manure digester. Today, that digester converts manure from three dairy farms to renewable natural gas (RNG). Ripp’s Dairy Valley provides roughly 35,000 gallons of manure to the site; in total, over 100,000 gallons of manure is processed through the digester, which produces about one semi load of RNG each day.
After RNG is created, a centrifuge separates the remaining solid and liquid, and the liquid returns to Ripp’s farm.
“The generation of natural gas has been pretty good,” Ripp said. “We make money on it, or that’s what we’re always striding toward.”
Back on the farm, the liquid from the digester is pumped into a pit and eventually used as part of the dairy’s sand separating system. The Ripps use two man-made sand separators to recycle sand for bedding. They still must purchase a small amount of sand each week, but recycling the material has drastically reduced the loads.
In addition to the liquid brought back to the farm, the dairy has two containment centers where on-farm wastewater is stored for cleaning the holding area.
“Our main purpose on the farm is keeping clean water clean,” Ripp said. “Every time we reuse water again, it helps.”
Dorrich Dairy focuses on community outreach
There are several sustainable farming practices that Dorrich Dairy uses in the day-to-day operations of the farm, including biological predators for fly control, energy-efficient technology for barn lights and fans as well as a composter for bedding. Yet, the most impactful practice has been the family’s focus on community outreach.
“Most importantly, we host community events on our farm,” Vold said.
The Volds welcomed thousands of people to their farm in 2021 for their county’s educational Breakfast on the Farm event. It was an opportunity to showcase the technologies and management protocols the family uses to practice sustainable farming.
“We got the opportunity to tell our story so many times,” Vold said. “Some of those people grew up in agriculture and some had never been on a farm.”
The community event and other smaller outreach opportunities align with Dorrich Dairy’s mission statement and value statements. Their mission statement is, “Not just another herd,” while their value statements include: Doing common things uncommonly well, Leaving it better than we came, Promoting agriculture through education, Surrounding ourselves with great people, and Doing the right thing.
“We want to differentiate ourselves,” Vold said. “These statements affect us each day for the decisions we make, large and small.”
In addition to the work Vold and her family do at their local and regional level, Vold also serves on the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Environmental Stewardship Committee. More information about her involvement and the center’s efforts in sustainability can be heard in this Progressive Dairy Podcast.
Cover crops are the beginning for Endres Berryridge Farms LLC
When Endres’ grandfather established the dairy in 1915, he dabbled in many practices to have a sustainable farm moving forward.
Today, Endres continues his grandfather’s philosophy.
“To me, everything starts with a cover crop and keeping a living root in the ground as long as you can for as many months possible,” Endres said. “The practices on the farm that all give credit to water quality start with cover crops.”
The Endres family uses cover crops as a guide for soil health and determining what practice they should follow in the season ahead. For example, if a cover crop is not showing growth in the fall, Endres knows to do more tillage on the fields before further establishing that crop. He noted that on the farm’s mostly non-tilled acreage, it is the headlands and high-traffic areas that have a difficult time with cover crops.
Endres uses both winter rye and spring barley for the farm’s main cover crops. The crops are planted soon after the summer harvest with the planting drill chasing the chopper.
“Don’t worry about the manure, just get the crop established first,” Endres said. “The window for planting cover crops to grow and establish roots to it is all in September, as we lose hours of daylight quickly.”
Endres applies manure with low-disturbance injection when the cover crop is 2 to 3 inches above ground.
“If you apply then, it’ll survive,” Endres said of the crop. “It does two things at that point: sequesters nutrients and helps keep the soil in place.”
Endres Berryridge Farms LLC also has planted green in alfalfa. Endres noted that the key to that practice is getting the seed in deep enough – about 2.5 to 3 inches – in the soil so the kernel is below a majority of the roots and that it still has access to nitrogen early on.
The practices on each of the farms showcased in the producer panel paint an opportune picture of sustainability in the dairy industry.
“Everyone wants to be carbon-neutral,” Endres said. “Farmers really hold the ace in this because we’re the only ones who can introduce carbon back into the soil.”
“As these different regulations have come down the pipeline, at first I was annoyed and felt we had a trust issue,” he said. “But we do need to look at what consumers want, do better practices on our farms and keep them informed. The more we can tell about our farm, the less they can guess.”
Click here to download the panel’s PowerPoint presentation from the Vita Plus Midwest Dairy Conference.