Caramel vanilla swirl, mint chocolate chip, and vanilla fudge
ripple are popular ice cream flavors that many of us are sure to savor this
summer. Including New Yorkers who while enjoying these delectable delights are
also being stewards to the environment.
New Yorkers who buy these creamy
treats are supporting milk suppliers that are participating in an innovative
program in New York that’s protecting the State’s watersheds from pollution. The
watersheds in upstate New York provide fresh water to millions of New York
residents and businesses.
The Precision Feed Management
Program, funded by the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, is working
with New York dairy farms to implement cow feeding methods that are keeping the
state’s watersheds free of pollution. The program is also improving the quality
of the farm’s milk and increasing their profits.
In Delaware County, NY, the
program is led by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County along
with a multi-agency team that includes the Corps’ New York District, Delaware
County, the New York City Watershed Agricultural Council, and the Delaware
County Soil and Water Conservation District.
The program is showing dairy farms
ways they can reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen in their cows’ feed.
Phosphorous and nitrogen can runoff into the water sources from cow excrement in
the farm’s soil. So far the program has reduced phosphorous and nitrogen levels
in the watersheds on participating farms by more than 50%.
On all dairy farms about
two-thirds to three-quarters of the nutrients from animal feed end up in the
farm soil, where over time they can be lost to the environment if not managed
For watershed supplying drinking
water, increased phosphorous and nitrogen in the water supply increases the
growth of algae in the water, requiring more chlorination. Chlorination can
create substances that can cause cancer in humans.
To reduce phosphorous and nitrogen
in the cow feed, the program is encouraging dairy farms to create better feed
mixes for their dairy cows.
Dairy farms usually create feed by
mixing commercially purchased feed with their own home grown crop. Commercial
feed is supplemented with high levels of vitamins and minerals, including
|Photos:: Paul Cerosaletti|
|Dairy cows grazing on a Delaware County dairy farm that's participating in the Precision Feed Management Program|
|A dairy farmer participating in the PFM Program feeding his cows their feed ration|
The program is showing dairy
farmers how to create more balanced blends that contain less phosphorous.
One way they are doing this is by
encouraging the farmers to purchase less commercial feed, which can be
expensive, and grow more of their own home grown crop to feed their cows.
To grow their own feed, the
program works with farms to adopt crop production methods that are beneficial to
the farms in many ways, including no-till crop planting.
This method eliminates the need to
use gas-guzzling machinery that requires expensive fuel. Doing less soil tillage
also reduces soil erosion from the watershed. This is soil that may contain
phosphorous and nitrogen.
This method also increases harvest
production because it eliminates the need for several time consuming tilling
operations that are usually performed. Increased production yields more nutrient
dense crops for the cows, improving the quality of their milk.
Improved milk quality is something
Hager Farms is experiencing with the program. Hager Farms is a 1,200-acre dairy
farm in Delaware County that’s been on the program since 2004 and produces milk
that’s sold throughout the state.
“The program provides our farm a
computerized feeding system that gives us accurate information on the amount and
type of feed that we put into our mixer and helps us monitor our feed
inventories,” says Ellen Hager, owner of Hager Farms.
The feeding system also helps her
adjust rations so she is assured her cows are being well nourished. “Cows are a
biological event, so any change in any feed will affect them, positively or
negatively,” Hager says.
“We can also monitor a cow’s
health through monthly milk testing that the program has shown us how to
perform. This also shows us how our cows are using our feed,” says Hager.
Paul Cerosaletti, team leader with
the Delaware County Precision Feed
Management Program Management Team, Cornell Cooperative Extension, is
pleased that dairy farms, like Hager Farms, are benefiting from the program.
“When we started the program in
2000 we knew it would be a major challenge. We were asking dairy farmers to
change the way they feed their cows, which can directly affect their farms’
profit engine, milk production,” says Cerosaletti.
“Feeding cows is a complex
process, because what they are fed determines the health of the cow and the
quality of the milk they produce,” he says. “It’s a delicate area to be trying
to change. We knew that if the farms experience one year of crop failure while
on our program that they wouldn’t want to adopt it.”
To see what financial impact the
program was having on the dairy farms, Cerosaletti and his team performed a
They compared the financial records of dairy farms
on the program with ones not on the program that are in the same region and of
“Study results showed that on average the
farm’s operating costs to produce milk were $1.33 per one hundred weight of milk
produced lower then the farms not on the program,” says
“Typically farms operating costs can range
from $10 to $18 per one hundred weight of milk produced, so $1.33 is a pretty
good reduction in operating cost.”
These farms are also producing more milk
revenue. “Dairy farms on the
program are making on average about 1,400 pounds more milk per cow per year.
Depending on what the milk price is, this may be worth $250.00 more in gross
milk sales per cow per year,” says Cerosaletti.
This is due to a number of factors, including
improved homegrown feed quality and diet mixes.
According to Cerosaletti, dairy farms make up
a large percentage of the farms in upstate New York and presently almost 50 out
of the 200 dairy farms in Delaware County are on the
The program is growing steadily, he says, and
he attributes much of this success to the program’s team of devoted
individuals who are out in the field working closely with dairy farmers so that
One of the major ways the team
educates dairy farmers is by holding monthly “farmer-to-farmer” learning group
workshops that serve as a support group for the farmers.
“The PFM people helped us to see
where we may have not been as attentive as we should be. In a business that is
environmentally sensitive, we need to pay close attention to all aspects of
farming. New regulations are coming very frequently, so the resource of the
program has been great,” says Hager.
“It’s important that other dairy
farms in our area look past their cows and farmstead. When we’re exposed to
outside resources and tools, we can get a better idea of how our world around us
works,” she adds.
“Delaware County is very rural,
and one can at times feel isolated. With this program, we can come together and
exchange ideas and protocols, whether large or small. When one doesn't look
beyond your hills, one could easily lose touch with what the world is asking
from us, not only as producers, but also as stewards of our land. Our world
continues to grow smaller, so we need to be more aware of our neighbors, whether
down the road, or in the next state.”
Cerosaletti adds, “The real strength of the Precision
Feed Management Program is that by working with farmers this closely we’re
achieving quantified benefits for the environment and the farms. It's a win-win