By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Skyridge Farms of Sunnyside, Wash., and Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese of Gooding, Idaho, were honored Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award from The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
The program annually recognizes dairy farms and businesses of all sizes for practices that advance the industry's commitment to healthy products, healthy communities and a healthy planet.
The two dairies joined six other recipients who took steps to reduce their environmental impact, improve their profitability and increase their contribution to a sustainable 21st century food system, said Molly Jahn, professor of genetics and agronomy at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the judges panel.
Skyridge Farms was honored with the Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability award. Owner Dan DeGroot has cultivated an organization that optimizes performance and preserves the environment on his 3,200-cow dairy.
Since 2003, he has improved lighting, added occupancy sensors and installed a programmable logic control system. The management team can automatically control lighting, fans and soaker and flush systems.
By doing so, they maintain optimum performance, reduce costs and keep the herd comfortable. This upgrade alone yields a 20 percent energy savings annually in the five freestall barns.
With composting, Skyridge Farms harvests manure nutrients, provides quality bedding for the herd and eliminates 600 truckloads annually previously used to transport manure.
Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese was honored with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Energy Efficiency. Energy efficiency is sometimes overlooked, but the Ballards see it as a way to reduce their overhead costs and eliminate propane use on their 110 milking and dry cow dairy and cheese facility.
An energy audit and a team of energy management experts helped identify four primary areas of savings, which included using solar thermal power for the hot water system, installing LED lighting, replacing vacuum pumps and adjusting the milk cooling process.
The Ballards achieved their goals, saving $23,000 annually and reducing the dairy's carbon footprint by 121,500 pounds per year, while decreasing its water footprint by 365,000 gallons annually.
"This awards program is a great example of how systemwide collaborative efforts can help dairy contribute to a bright future," said Paul Rovey, an Arizona dairy producer, member of the judges panel and chairman of Dairy Management Inc.
Other sustainability award winners are: Petersen Dairy Farm, Appleton, Wis.; Prairieland Dairy, Firth, Neb.; McCarty Family Farms, Rexford, Kan.; Unilever, Henderson, Nev., ice-cream plant; Green Valley Dairy, Krakow, Wis.; and Fulper Family Farmstead, Lambertville, N.J.
The awards program is part of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, an industrywide effort to measure and improve the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the dairy industry.