OSU and Oregon Dairy Farmers work together to find environmental solutions

Dairy farmers understand that what happens on their farms affects all of us. That’s why they’ve worked with industry partners to develop the Net Zero Initiative (NZI), a set of goals and collaborative research that helps to make sustainability achievable for farms of all sizes.

The NZI helps to innovate several key areas of dairy production: improving cow’s nutrition and feed, reducing enteric methane emissions, managing manure, and creating renewable energy with byproducts from their farm and cows. Dairy farmers in Oregon are already working with local partners and Oregon State University’s College of Agriculture on addressing potential methane emissions solutions and innovating cow nutrition and soil health on their farms.

On Sar-Ben Farms, a family farm of 300+ cows in St. Paul, Oregon, Farmer Steve Pierson has been working with OSU on a program that studies plants with high concentrations of tannins used on pastures for dairy cows. Tannins, found in plants like chicory and plantain, are naturally-occurring compounds that have potential to reduce methane inside the cow as it digests. By using high-tannin forages on his farm, Pierson found that it also increased the biodiversity of his pastures.

Improving soil health with a “salad bar” of these forages on farms is an important part of overall health in the food chain. “Whatever happens in the soil, it affects the animal. It affects us,” says Dr. Ates.

How else can forages help animal health and overall health in the food chain?

Dairy farmer Jon Bansen has been researching the answer for several decades through the cultivation of the lush, green pastures on his 625 acre farm in Monmouth, OR. Bansen has planted different varieties of grasses and clover that mingle with high-tannin plants like chicory to create a diverse diet for his herd of 200+ dairy cows. Not only do the plants provide different sources of nutrients for his herd, but they also create a balance of water and minerals in the soil through their unique root systems.

For Bansen, studying soil health is important because he wants to create a system that offers the best possible nutrition for his herd to make great quality milk. “That’s what we’re really working at on our farm all the time,” says Bansen. “How do we build that system that sustains us?”

The dairy industry is working on ways to reduce greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and methane across the country on dairy farms of all sizes. Reducing methane in cows and creating more biodiversity on farms are just a few things that dairy farmers are doing to create nutritious milk while being part of the solution to climate change.

For more information on how dairy farmers are playing a vital role in reducing climate change, check out these resources:

How Dairy Farmers are Reducing Methane Gas from Cows

Dairy Farmers Advance Environmental Practices and Get Results

U.S. Dairy Fast Environmental Facts