Dairy Farms and the Environment

Dairy farmers live on or near the land that they farm. They understand the importance of protecting natural resources. Practicing environmental stewardship is not only good for communities, their families, and their economic bottom line—it’s the right thing to do.

What do dairy farmers do to protect the environment?

Your local cow thinks globally

By following recommended conservation practices, farmers maximize crop yields while minimizing impact to their land and the environment.

All dairy farms must meet state and federal standards for manure storage, handing and recycling per guidelines from state and federal agencies. Dairy farmers recycle manure according to detailed nutrient management plans that help conserve soil and protect local streams, rivers and estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay. Cow manure is used to fertilize crops, part of sustainable cycle that allows dairy farmers to make nutritious foods available to people.

Farmers also use many other best management practices such as no-till farming, energy conservation and streambank protection. For example, the Chesapeake Bay Program recently highlighted one Pennsylvania farm as both a productive business and environmental steward.

Some dairy farms are using new technology that has environmental benefits. Methane digesters, for example, allow dairy farms to produce renewable energy. A digester collects methane gas released from cow manure and converts it to electricity that can power the dairy farm and other homes in the community.

See how this award-winning Pennsylvania dairy farm is producing energy from
a renewable resource and keeping food waste out of landfills.


Courtesy of Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Dairy farmers continuously work with government and university experts to find even more ways to conserve natural resources. For example, they have found creative ways to recycle water and other materials, and prevent soil erosion — activities that help ensure their farms remain economically viable.

Sustainability is the goal

Dairy farmers contribute to a sustainable food system. They support practices that make economic sense, help the environment and are socially responsible to our communities and our world.

The latest research shows that the U.S. dairy industry accounts for only about 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy farmers are working on ways to reduce that figure even more: They are on track to meet a goal set in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by the year 2020.

More milk is produced today with only 9 million cows than with 26 million cows in 1944. While providing a supply of healthy milk for consumers and protecting the environment, dairy farmers oversee some of the most efficient, productive cows in the world!

Want to Learn More?

Check out these videos highlighting some of the many things farmers do to protect the environment today and for future generations.

Maryland Dairy Farmers Work to Improve the Health of Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay Program Spotlights Oregon Dairy

WWF Tours Brubaker Farms

How Do Dairy Farmers Recycle?

Raising Crops for Dairy Farms

Meet the Sensenigs

Oregon Dairy Farm shares the Dairyspot

Discover Dairy…In Our Environment