California dairy farms make smart use of natural resources and play an important role in recycling nutrients.
The amount of water used to produce each gallon of California milk has decreased more than 88% over the past 50-plus years. Learn More About Water-Smart Dairy.
Up to 40% of feed ingredients used on California dairies are agricultural byproducts, reducing the use of water, land, energy, and fossil fuels needed to grow feed crops. That's a total of 5.5 million tons (or 11 billion pounds) of byproducts fed to California dairy cows annually. (UC Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, 2020)
Additionally, by recycling organic manure nutrients, farms help build healthy soils, and reduce the need for fossil fuel-based fertilizers.
California dairy farms are world leaders in energy-smart practices, reducing usage and creating clean, renewable energy.
California's dairy sector is working with researchers, non-governmental organizations, and technology providers to explore ways to expand the use of manure nutrients in ways that help sequester carbon. California dairy farmers have long been applying manure as an organic fertilizer when growing forage and grain crops that are fed to cows. Now, dairy farmers are looking for new opportunities in which manure-based soil amendments can be used to also help grow other crops across California’s diverse agricultural landscape.
Recycling Nutrients = Conserving Water
Up to 40% of feed ingredients used on California dairies are agricultural byproducts, such as almond hulls, cotton seed, and citrus pulp, which could otherwise be wasted. By upcycling byproducts, dairy farms are reducing the use of water, energy, and fossil fuels needed to grow feed crops.
In 2020, researchers at UC Davis analyzed the economic and environmental sustainability implications of feeding byproducts to California dairy cows. They determined that this practice reduces the amount of water needed to grow feed by as much as 1.3 trillion gallons.
Water reuse is standard practice on California dairy farms, where the same water is used an average of four times:
Clean water is used in the refrigeration process to cool milk.
Water recycled from refrigeration is then used to wash and cool cows.
After water is used to wash cows, it is captured, stored, and used multiple times to clean barn floors.
This nutrient-rich water is then used to irrigate feed crops in surrounding fields.
Smart Feeding Practices
The diet of today’s California dairy cow is a tremendous example of smart resource management. Improvements made in feed quality have resulted in improved overall efficiency of dairy production—more milk per cow—and 88% less water needed to produce each gallon of milk. To ensure top-quality feed and manage farm economics, many California dairy farmers grow a portion of their own feed crops. Learn more about Water-Smart Dairy.
California dairy farms utilize manure nutrients.
Manure nutrients have long been utilized by California dairy farms, to fertilize crops that are grown to feed cows. By participating in the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), more and more dairies are improving their practices to avoid the production of methane. AMMP projects promote dry handling of manure, which can be a significant first step in producing a valuable and exportable source of organic matter for building healthy soils.
California dairy farms are world leaders in energy-smart practices.
Energy efficient lighting, cooling, pumping, and other practices have substantially reduced on-farm energy consumption. The increased installation of renewable energy on California dairy farms is further reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Through installation of energy-efficient equipment and lighting, individual dairies have cut energy use up to 20%.
More than 150 California dairy farms are generating solar energy. On-farm solar systems already produce more than 250 million kWh of energy each year — the equivalent needed to power roughly 32,000 homes.
By installing digesters, California farmers are not only helping further shrink dairy’s carbon footprint to unprecedented levels, they are also helping the state transition to clean, renewable energy.