In October 2016, I attended the International Dairy Federation World Dairy Summit held in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Over 1,200 participants from every continent attended including many heads of government agencies, research institutes and national dairy organizations… seven percent were dairy farmers…few were American. Presentations addressed a wide range of topics important to the dairy industry ranging from animal well welfare, food safety, economics, nutrition, marketing, environmental challenges and sustainability. Not surprisingly, the issue of environmental quality was a “hot” topic of great interest.
Environmental regulations focusing on greenhouse gas emissions are significantly impacting financial and production decisions implemented on Dutch dairy farms. For example, in the Netherlands all manure lagoons are required to be covered to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In 2016, the Annual Nutrient Cycling Assessment (ANCA) model was implemented in the Dutch dairy sector. The goal of the ANCA model is to produce more milk and pollute less. The inputs for the ANCA model are milk produced per cow, manure, animals and land. A national database is used to aggregate inputs and outputs for each farm per year. Follow-up includes the potential for motivational calls.
The leaders of milk producers organizations, the farmers’ union, feed suppliers and farm accountants signed on to the ANCA model, making it mandatory for all Dutch farms. Beginning in January 2017, the penalty for noncompliance on a particular farm means milk cooperatives will not buy that farm’s milk.
What Implications Might This Have For American Dairy Farmers? The compulsory compliance of Dutch dairy farmers to the ANCA model provides an important lesson to American agriculture. As succeeding generations have become more removed from the experience of their farming ancestors, a large disconnect has emerged between the nostalgic vision of the Old MacDonald family farm and realities of large, technology-driven, commercial farms. Similar to European animal rights and environmental groups, their American counterparts tend to portray the large farms as “industrialized” agriculture, both harmful to animals and the environment. An immediate and proactive response by America’s agricultural community would provide an opportunity to shape future legislation and cultural beliefs.
The American agricultural community must immediately consider undertaking a social media campaign and public education programs detailing the story of production agriculture in America through time…the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as the resultant improvements and future directions. Since large commercial farms engaged in dairy, beef, crop and poultry are the most visible for critiquing, they have the most to gain from starting Facebook pages and/or blogs for their farms, providing regular updates about day to day activities. This type of campaign would illustrate how farmers utilize latest agricultural technology to improve the environment and quality of life/ care to animals on their farms, while producing a safe, abundant food supply. Extension specialists at Virginia Tech are willing to collaborate with farmers to develop effective communication strategies with the urban consumers.
The agricultural community needs to define itself proactively in a positive, plausible light. Otherwise, animal rights and environmental groups will promote and encourage the public to approve the passage of legislation that will.
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Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
April 1, 2017