Milk mandate hurts sustainability

Christina Gaines
Now Media Group


Don Niles has a lot on his mind. A practicing veterinarian-turned-dairy farmer, Don has immense pride in Dairy Dreams – the 2900 head operation he's co-owned since 2002 with John Pagel in Kewaunee County, WI.

And he should be proud. Citing a 95 percent success rate from the time the animals are first being delivered to being able to come into the dairy production side two years later is impressive.

'She needs to be comfortable, with good care and the proper diet,' he says, emulating the model operations he saw when he was in practice. 'We need to help her get pregnant in a timely manner and help keep her production level in the herd.'

Candidly, he knows what he's doing. In addition to a great team of dairymen, Niles also incorporates proven technologies to keep the process running smoothly. rbST, for example, is used to give every cow the opportunity to be successful on the farm. 'It's been a very helpful tool to reaching our goals.'

Unfortunately, a few dairy processors in Wisconsin have notified producers like Niles that they will only be accepting rbST-free milk beginning in 2017.

'We'll lose one very valuable tool to helping our cows be successful, and that will be a pity,' he said.

He's also worried about the impact of this decision to the environment.

'In our county, we are working very hard to maintain the high production that this county has been known for all while minimizing our carbon, water and land footprint,' he said. 'Taking rbST away would be a blow on our sustainability of that footprint.'

In fact, to produce the same amount of milk without rbST, Wisconsin farmers would need an additional*:

· 59,000 cows

· 164,000 acres of cropland = 257 sq mi or the land area of El Paso, TX (larger than Chicago)

· 23.9 billion gallons of water = more than the annual water usage of 43,000 U.S. households (family of 4)

These additional cows would add:

· 733,000 metric ton of CO2e = another 155,000 cars on the road annually

· 1.15 M tons of manure = greater than annual human sewage of Missouri (more than the state of Wisconsin)

'It's a real shame when decisions like this are being made up the food chain without any regard to sustainability,' Niles concludes. 'We are in the best position to know what's best for our cows and our operation.'

Have fear-driven, misinformation gone too far? See 'Enough is Enough' Pg. (insert Costello editorial page number)