Tag Archives: us dairy innovation center

Think Like a Farmer, Honor the Harvest

Erin Fitzgerald

What do sustainability and nutrition have in common? Everything. That’s according to Erin Fitzgerald, senior vice president of global sustainability for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

She addressed the Oregon Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Educational Conference as keynote speaker on May 4, conveying the importance of consumers and farmers working together to preserve the world’s resources while feeding America and a growing global population. Fitzgerald leads efforts to enhance dairy’s contributions to a more sustainable food system.

At the conference, Fitzgerald addressed the world’s need for food and the natural resources needed to produce food, stating that:

“We are exceeding the caring capacity of this earth. And since the global middle class will triple by 2030, we need to be prepared to provide more food. But how? We are losing 50 acres of farmland an hour due to urban encroachment. Our farmland is our rainforest. It is our nation’s greatest natural resource.”

However, she offered a message of hope. “I absolutely do believe we can solve for this. But it’s going to take an incredible amount of innovation,” she said. Fitzgerald addressed three major pathways toward sustainable food systems:


   Reduce waste and inefficiencies.

   Manage natural resource constraints.

   Advance farm technologies for crops in a bio economy.

Fitzgerald sees incredible benefits to advancement in technology. “By unlocking the potential of agriculture we will be able to cycle and manage carbon through agriculture, to solve for climate change,” she said. She followed that the biggest need is to create a revolution where consumers commit to adopt a farmers mentality to leave this earth as a legacy for future generations. “How are we going to get people on a sustainability pathway if we don’t already have the values and commitment to leave this world better than we found it?” said Fitzgerald.

She encouraged nutrition professionals by saying, “Take comfort in this stat that 48% of our land, air and water is in the stewardship of our farmers. They are truly providing these ecosystem services that we have taken for granted.” She went on to explain, “Dairy was the first industry sector to make a commitment to climate change.”

But aside from the sustainable practices that are ingrained in a farmer’s way of life, Fitzgerald also points out how important the cow is to our food system. “Because of the cow, we don’t have to wait for plant growing cycles, but we get nutrition year-round,” she said. “We take that for granted, but globally, around the world, to be able to provide nutrition 365 days while you are waiting for the crops to come in is a very big deal.”

As for the consumer’s role in sustainable nutrition, she explained that we are currently throwing away a third of the earth’s food. “Farmers are not going to have the chance to get this right unless people are eating healthy and not throwing their food away,” she said. “They are not honoring the harvest. What we do on our plates that has the greatest significance to the environmental impact.”

Fitzgerald encouraged her audience to create a ‘food-cycle movement,’ which includes: nourish people, eat right (leftovers too), get food to the food insecure, do your part in your community, and create a social handprint with food. She said, “That’s why I get excited to talk to [dietitians]. If someone is not there working with the consuming public on behavior change, then we won’t be able to solve for climate change.”

RELATED LINKS:

Farming with Innovation and Heart Earns National Award for Rickreall Dairy

rickreall dairy_louies-portrait

A dedication to protecting the environment, maintaining good employee relations and preserving herd health has earned Louie Kazemier of Rickreall Dairy an Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The award, now in its sixth year, is awarded for a dairy’s use of sustainable practices in areas of cow care, energy conservation, water conservation, nutrient management, and business and employee relations.

Rickreall is the first dairy from Oregon to win the award. It was one of only three such awards in the country this year, and the only one west of the Mississippi River.

Kazemier, who has managed Rickreall Dairy since 1991, summed up his commitment to sustainability as a constant effort “to do the right thing.”

“I believe that if we know a better way to do stuff and don’t do it, I don’t think we are honoring our purpose here in life,” he said.

His work on the dairy, more than defining him, he said is an extension of his philosophy on life.

Among reasons cited by the U.S. Dairy Innovation Center for Kazemier’s award are his philanthropic efforts to help others.

Kazemier travels regularly to Uganda to instruct dairy farmers, build housing and mentor young men. In Oregon, Kazemier built Camp Attitude, a camp for families with special-needs children.

In Rickreall, residents know him for his open-door policy, and the steps he takes to be a good neighbor.

“We are ultra-sensitive to the public,” Kazemier said. “We only irrigate certain fields, certain times of the day, because of wind direction and concerns with odor. And we have an open door policy, where anybody who wants to see the dairy can come in. We bring in a minimum of 2,000 school children a year at no cost to the schools.”

Rickreall-Dairy-signWhen it comes to the environmental improvements, Kazemier worked with Energy Trust of Oregon and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upgrade his barn lighting and parlor laundry systems, steps that have reduced his energy use by hundreds of thousands of kilowatts per year.

Kazemier’s nutrient management plan involves applying only the amount of nutrients plants take up, so nutrients don’t leave the soil profile. He conducts water-quality tests in a nearby creek on a quarterly basis, and takes soils tests on the farm’s cropland on an annual basis, just to be sure.

Additionally, Kazemier provides neighboring farmer Scott Zeigler excess manure nutrients from Rickreall Dairy in exchange for feed, an arrangement that has proved beneficial to both parties.

Kazemier’s father-in-law, Gus Wybenga, a third-generation dairy farmer who expanded and redesigned Rickreall Dairy when he purchased it in 1990, designed it with water conservation in mind. Kazemier has refined the system to capture and conserve water, and ensure that tap water is recycled at least three times before being used for irrigation.

And Kazemier has arranged with a local food processor to take excess waste water off the processor’s hands, an arrangement that, again, benefits both parties.

When it comes to his 3,500 cows, Kazemier works closely with a nutritionist, a veterinarian and a herd manager to regulate and monitor herd health. And he uses computer software to track daily milk production and maintain health and treatment records.

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Rickreall Dairy meets most of its feed needs through double-cropping ryegrass silage and corn silage and on the dairy’s 1,100 acres of cropland. Kazemier supplements that with high-quality alfalfa hay, along with two byproducts from a local biofuel production plant, plus mineral supplements, beet pulp, cottonseed, hominy and corn grain, and the feed he gets from Zeigler Farms.

Kazemier uses composted manure solids for cow bedding, a practice that, in addition to providing a comfortable and sanitary bedding, also provides another beneficial use for dairy waste, and he has removed exterior walls to improve air circulation in the dairy’s five free-stall barns.

According to John Rosecrans, the dairy’s nutritionist, Rickreall Dairy cows consistently rank as an “A” herd, exhibiting high milk-production-to-feed rates, low cull rates and high pregnancy rates – all key elements in a dairy’s success.
“This is one of those dairies where you can walk through the cow pens and they don’t run from you, they follow you,” Rosecrans said. “That tells you a lot about a farm.”

Then there are the dairy’s twenty-five year-round employees, workers with an average a tenure of twenty years.

“People don’t quit very quickly here,” Kazemier said, “and I take a lot of pride in that, because agriculture is a tough business, and my guys, they know that I’ve got their back if they put one-hundred percent into this job.”

Indeed, cows, people, the community and the environment all seem to benefit from their association with Louie Kazemier and Rickreall Dairy.

 


 


RELATED LINKS

Oregon Dairy Farm Receives National Sustainability Award
NEWS RELEASE | June 29, 2017
Rickreall Dairy Lauded for Farming with Innovation and Heart

Dairy Farms and Businesses are Advancing Sustainable Practices, from Farm to Table
NEWS RELEASE | June 29, 2017
Winners announced for sixth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, progress report released

Louie Kazemier: Dairy Farmer, Humanitarian, Heart of Gold