Green Bay — A new Wisconsin-based initiative aimed at fostering continuous improvement throughout the dairy supply chain took center stage recently at a national summit exploring the growing sustainability movement in agriculture.
The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance was among projects chosen from around the country to be featured in panel discussions at the 2016Sustainable Agriculture Summit, held Nov. 15-16 in Atlanta. The conference brought together diverse perspectives from across the food and agricultural supply chain.
The event was hosted by Field to Market, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the National Pork Board, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
Organized in the spring of 2016, the DSSA works to help farmers, processors, food companies and others who are connected to the production of dairy foods, from the farm to the grocery store, show tangible improvements in areas such as environmental stewardship, energy use, animal care and food safety.
The alliance presents a new model to engage farmers at the project level.
"In a short amount of time, we have been able to collaborate with the agricultural community to share some of the conservation practices and technology already used by our farmers to protect and improve our ground and surface waters," said Lee Kinnard of Kinnard Farms in Casco, Wis., one of the DSSA presenters at the summit. "At the same time we are all learning new techniques that will allow us to do an ever better job of protecting our land, air and water, as well as caring for our animals."
Kinnard Farms, a family dairy, has participated with the DSSA directly and through a farmer-led group called Peninsula Pride Farms located in Kewaunee and southern Door counties.
Steve Richter, director of conservation programs in Wisconsin for The Nature Conservancy, joined Kinnard in introducing the DSSA at the summit. The conservancy is a key collaborator and founding member of the alliance. Richter, whose group is well versed in water quality monitoring and phosphorus reduction projects, explained how the alliance provides an infrastructure for projects across Wisconsin that can help the conservancy build off its previous successful projects involving farmers.
The summit also featured new technologies that are driving change, farmer-led initiatives, collaboration between the public and private sectors, workforce challenges, food culture influences and sustainability frameworks.
Across the diverse topics, a common theme emerged: Farmers must collaborate with the rest of the agricultural supply chain to make progress.
"It was inspiring to see so many people with diverse perspectives having conversations about sustainability," said Maria Woldt, sustainability lead and director of industry relations for the Dairy Business Association, a founding partner in the alliance. "The real challenge comes once the meeting ends and everyone returns home. From these conversations must come action and measurable outcomes."
The alliance is a new concept, and it was an honor to participate alongside established programs with years of results to report, Woldt said.
"As projects within the alliance move forward, their results will be amplified across the entire dairy supply chain to help elevate America's Dairyland to America's Sustainable Dairyland," she said.
Organized in the spring of 2016, the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance aims to show tangible improvement throughout the dairy supply chain in the areas of land use, soil conservation, nutrient management, water quality and use, energy use, animal care, food safety, greenhouse emissions, economic health and social responsibility. The DSSA achieves these goals by applying existing sustainability tools to efforts led by farmers and dairy processors. To learn more, visit dairystrong.org/sustainability.