Oregon Dairy Industry Innovating for the Future

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s dairy farmers have been committed to taking care of the environment for generations, and technology and innovation are helping them to further enhance their sustainability efforts while protecting animal welfare, increasing productivity, and reducing environmental impact.

“From soil testing to soft starts on all of our motors, energy-efficient lighting and recycling water multiple times, every decision made on the farm is made with the animals and environment in mind,” said Louie Kazemier, owner of Rickreall Dairy in Rickreall, Oregon. “We want to pass this land on to the next generation and when we do, we want it to be better than when we inherited it.”

Oregon is home to four nationally recognized recipients of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, including Rickreall Dairy and Threemile Canyon Farms. Located in Boardman, Oregon, Threemile Canyon Farms has been innovating since its inception in 2001. They combine dairy farming with conventional and organic crop farming to create a closed-loop system where nothing is wasted.

“The cornerstone of Threemile’s sustainable system is the methane digester, which converts manure to renewable natural gas (RNG) that can be used to heat homes, generate electricity and as an alternative to fossil fuel-based sources of transportation,” said Jennifer Maleitzke, director of communications and external relations for Threemile Canyon Farms. “While RNG is fully interchangeable with natural gas in terms of its use, its production is superior because it is carbon negative.”

According to a study in the Journal of Animal Science, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 required 30% less water and 21% less land while creating a 19% smaller carbon footprint than ten years prior in 2007.

“The technology to recycle manure is getting better and more cost effective for dairies like ours, which makes it possible for us to utilize all the nutrients found in the manure of our animals and in turn, reduces the farm’s carbon footprint,” Kazemier said. “Farmers were environmentalists long before the term was coined. We’ve always cared about our animals and the environment.”

Kurt Mizee of Tilla-Bay Farms in Tillamook, Oregon, used to own a Lely dealership that sells robotic equipment to dairy farms. He also uses this technology on his own farm.

“The Lely Vector feeding robot reduces feed waste by increasing the accuracy and consistency of feed delivered to the cows,” Mizee said. “Since the Vector replaces the feed truck, it also significantly reduces diesel usage.”

According to Threemile Canyon Farms, their digester converts methane into the energy equivalent needed to power over 30% of their annual operations and sequesters 136,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 28,875 passenger vehicles. In addition to RNG, the output from the digester makes clean, comfortable bedding for cows and natural fertilizer for crops.

“As dairy farmers, we are committed to continuous improvement, and technology helps us to take even better care of our cows and our natural resources,” Maleitzke said. “Sustainability is a journey and not a destination; it’s something we are committed to every day.