Idyllic Landscapes? Try Polluted Paradises

Bucolic. Isn’t that a fun word? According to the handy little box that pops up in Google when you start searching for a definition, bucolic means “of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life.” Yes, I had to look it up. Anyway, the point is, dairy farms may look like an idyllic landscape for raising cows that provide our children with their much-loved milk and cheese snacks, but they’re actually hiding a dark secret.

The Problem with Dairy Pollution

According to Yale Environment 360, over 50 percent of the United States’ milk production is generated by just 3 percent of the nation’s dairy farms. Each of these dairy farms has at least 1,000 cows, with the largest weighing in at around 15,000 cows. This seems all well and good until you consider all the – ahem – waste that these cows produce. Let’s put it this way, a dairy farm with 2,000 cows generates more than 240,000 pounds of manure daily. That’s 90 million pounds a year.

What All That Poo Pollution Means

Okay, so it’s no secret cows produce waste, but that poo is polluting area waterways, and that’s a problem. The runoff from farms seeps into aquifers, leading some communities to stand up to dairy farms that want to consolidate their locations into what I think should be called single-location super-dairies. These super-dairies can also increase the levels of nitrogen in the soil, which can actually kill nearby plants. That’s a bad thing if you’re a neighboring farmer just trying to grow some wheat.

Finding a Solution

Although fines levied against Wisconsin dairy farmers may not be the most constructive ways to handle the dairy pollution problem – a recent case involved a $65,000 fine against a dairy farm by the Wisconsin Department of Justice – they are evidence that the local government is taking notice. In addition, the EPA has been working with dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to manage manure to turn it into a resource for boosting soil quality, for fertilizing crops, and generating renewable energy. So here’s hoping that dairy farmers and industry leaders can team up to make these farms into something from our imagination: clean, pure and beautiful.

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  1. The problem with dairy farms is not limited to the massive amount of poo generated – they also generate huge amounts of urine. Here in Florida, dairy farms typically use the urine to irrigate surrounding land. But the constant over-application ends up polluting nearby groundwater and surface water with excess nitrogen. It’d be great if these farms would recycle the urine in more productive ways also…

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