The dairy checkoff was put in place by farmers years ago to increase demand for dairy and to build trust in dairy products and farm practices. When it comes to trust, both consumers and customers want nutritious food choices that are responsibly produced.
One important way we help build a positive image of dairy farming is to create partnerships and establish organizations that can help farmers produce nutrient-rich milk while being environmentally responsible.
That’s what Newtrient is all about. Our aim is to help farms reduce the environmental footprint of dairy and make it economically viable to do so.
In 2015, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy promotion checkoff, convened a group of 12 influential dairy cooperatives, with the National Milk Producers Federation, to form Newtrient and find ways to help dairy farm families do the best things for their farms and their communities.
The initial vision was to accelerate the use of digesters through Newtrient. But digesters aren’t for everybody. So, we looked at a broader purpose of addressing more of the environmental challenges to and opportunities for dairy. There are a lot of things farmers have been doing for decades that provide real benefit to local towns and communities.
That said, dairy does not immediately present farmers with a way to cover the expense of delivering those additional environmental benefits. How can we provide benefits, such as clean water, less fertilizer and better soil health, and find a way for farmers to gain economic incentives at the same time?
Focused, Innovative Efforts
What we all see, what you are living as dairy farmers, is an industry facing increasing regulatory, judicial and societal pressures to become more involved in the environmental footprint discussion. The conversation includes issues related to nitrogen and phosphorus, soil health, carbon sequestration and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, we recognize the potential for an erosion in confidence in dairy products and dairy farmers among consumers. Newtrient, however, is one of the few agriculture organizations that is trying to rewrite our future and help build consumer confidence. Instead of increased regulation, Newtrient sees an opportunity to create meaningful incentives for dairy farmers to implement on-farm improvements that not only meet growing consumer demands but can generate revenue for farms.
- The first benefit for farmers is our Technology Catalog. At the very outset, we needed to understand everything possible about all the tools available to farmers. We assembled a group of highly-skilled manure management and nutrient recovery experts and had them review 250-plus technologies and the vendors who provide them. Think of it as a Consumer Reports for manure management. I have told dairy farmers that if a technology salesman comes knocking, ask them if they are in the Newtrient Catalog. If they’re not, end the conversation right there.
- Consumers pay for every component of manure, from energy, manure-based products, phosphorous and nitrogen to compost, bedding and other products. So, the business development side looks at these opportunities and we work through how to monetize them. One company came to us when they wanted to develop a manure fiber-based product for retail. We helped them understand the characteristics of manure fiber, so they could move ahead successfully. Companies are relying on Newtrient’s expertise to help them understand how to be of value to the dairy industry.
- We’ve identified market-based solutions that allow farmers to do more than produce food – you can see economic benefits for ecosystem services that improve the environment. For instance, a wide variety of manufacturing facilities may struggle with the expense of phosphorus and/or nitrogen overloading. Dairy farms can often achieve the same, or better, environmental goals at a much lower cost to other business owners and taxpayers. It makes sense that dairy farms should be paid to accomplish those environmental goals on behalf of our communities.
I’m proud of the progress Newtrient has made these past three years and I’m optimistic about our future. We have grown deep and useful governmental relationships that should lead to less regulation and more economic opportunity. We are truly being heard like never before.
We have an opportunity to show how dairy farming can benefit our communities. Milk is a great, almost magical, product, but what we do as farmers can go far beyond this product. We found value in whey to help the success of processors; we can do the same thing with manure for dairy farmers.
With the help of Newtrient, we can enjoy a very different and positive environmental and economic future for dairy, and then for all of agriculture.
If you have any thoughts or questions, please reach out to us at TalkToTheCheckoff@dairy.org.
Steve Rowe is CEO of Newtrient. Click here to read the company’s newly released three-year progress report.