A Message from Darigold’s Board Chair
DARIGOLD PRODUCER IN WHATCOM COUNTY, WASHINGTON
Today, Darigold customers and consumers are more interested in how their food is produced than ever before. As a result, they look for assurance that Darigold is responsibly managing animal care, workers and environmental stewardship. Fortunately, what our member-producers do on their farms and what our customers want are closely aligned.
If you ask what is most near and dear to our dairy farmers, the first answer you’ll hear is “the cows.” That is where it all begins. Everything on our farms revolves around the cow. When customers first began asking about our practices, it was a bit of a surprise to our farmers when we received questions like, do our cows have adequate water, feed and bedding? Providing for basic needs like clean water, quality feed and comfortable bedding is a fundamental tenet of animal care. It’s not only the right thing to do to take care of our cows in the best manner possible, it has a direct effect on the quality of the cows’ milk. Beyond the obvious moral obligation to care for our animals, these are the heart of good farming practices – and thus, for us, good business practices.
Darigold producers are all independent business owners and members of the Northwest Dairy Association (NDA). Our members follow excellent animal care practices. As a condition of membership in our cooperative, our producers participate in the National Dairy’s F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program guidelines, which evaluate good animal care practices and promote continuous improvement on our farms.
Like animal welfare, stewardship of the land is both core to our values and makes business sense. As a farmer, I view manure as a valuable crop nutrient that can replace the need for commercial fertilizer. We have every incentive to use this asset (manure) by practicing effective nutrient management through comprehensive manure handling and rigorous soil testing. We follow excellent nutrient management practices, not just because it is a requirement in our Nutrient Management Plans, but because it is good for our farms to do it.
If you ask what is most near and dear to our dairy farmers, the first answer you’ll hear is “the cows.” That is where it all begins.
Water quality and water conservation are also vital concerns for us. My farm in Whatcom County, Washington, provides one example of the kinds of environmental initiatives about water that are happening on many NDA farms. Water is very critical in general and for growing crops in specific, so we follow water management best practices. Clean water is also essential for local residents, fish habitat and wildlife, so we are working closely with the six Watershed Improvement Districts in our county, where I serve on one of the local boards. We are one of a group of landowners that voted to tax ourselves on a per-acre basis to build a fund to help manage these districts. Funds are used to monitor watersheds; identify areas of poor drainage or potential contamination; talk to farmers; and provide education and technical assistance to support stream flows, irrigation, aquifers and water tables. The goal is to ensure healthy and sustainable water systems, and support a vibrant and productive agricultural economy.
As dairy farmers, we are always looking for practical innovations that help us improve our operations, including improving our environmental performance. Many Darigold producers are testing and installing equipment like separators, centrifuges, presses, filtration systems and methane digesters. These systems, together with improved storage, allow nutrients to be made available to the crops when needed, which increases productivity and protects the environment. Other sustainable practices are also being employed, such as barn roof solar panels, LED lighting, variable speed drives enabling pumps to pull only the energy needed for each specific job requirement, capturing heat energy, and using automatic manure scrapers. Such practices both reduce our environmental footprint and make economic sense.
In addition to excellent animal care and innovations to expand our environmental stewardship, it is also worth noting that cows are efficient recyclers, as they eat things people can’t. Cows convert plants, such as grass and alfalfa, into protein-rich dairy products, providing nutritious food for humans. This is an important factor in our quest to feed the growing world population. In addition, our cows are fed a number of food processing by-products, such as bakery by-products, cotton seed, beet pulp, soy meal, distillers grain, straw and whey product from cheese making, which people do not normally consume. This contributes to a more sustainable food system.
At NDA we expect that these animal care and stewardship management practices are carried out for the benefit of the cows, the farmer, employees, the environment, customers and consumers. And that is how we think about sustainability or Cooperative Social Responsibility (CSR) at Darigold – it’s doing the right thing in ways that work well for all concerned.
Finally, I am personally struck by the fact that even in the U.S., one in six Americans lacks a secure source of food. Sustainability for us means that Darigold will continue to play a key role in addressing hunger.
We are working hard every day to live up to our sustainability commitments and we welcome the chance to share our CSR efforts with you.
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