Environmental Considerations

Dairy farms are continually working towards overall sustainability. Compared to farms in 1960 today's dairy farms are on average producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows thanks to genetic improvements, better feed nutrition, and improved cow comfort, including reduced heat stress, better ventilation and stall design, as well as other management practices. Farmers are evaluating how they can reduce potential externalities, including air quality impacts, water quality impacts, and any impact on microbial resistance.

Environmental concerns related to the dairy industry such as those in the list below have been studied with reports and related materials posted.

Climate Change

Climate and weather are an important management concern for animal agriculture. The intent of this web page is to assist those involved in animal agriculture to prepare and respond to current weather and the potential for a changing climate.

Dairy Environmental Systems and Climate Adaptations Conference: 2015

Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotics are chemicals that kill or impede bacterial growth. Parallel to their use and importance for human health, antibiotics are important medicines used on dairy farms to prevent and treat bovine bacterial infections. When antibiotics are administered to dairy cattle, milk and meat withholding times are strictly followed to prevent antibiotic residues from entering the food system.

Antibiotic Resistance (AR) is a naturally occurring process where previously susceptible bacteria develop the ability to resist the effects of an antibiotic. The use of both human and veterinary antibiotics has accelerated antibiotic-resistant bacteria development.

Information found on this page was developed under USDA funding that supports work to investigate and report on the efficacy of dairy manure treatment systems to mitigate antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Antibiotic Resistance and Dairy Production

Antibiotic Residues in Dairy Manure: (2017)

Antimicrobial Resistance and Dairy Manure Systems: (2018)

Odor and Emissions

Odor and Emissions from dairy operations are an environmental and societal concern. While addressing odor is a neighbor relations concern, emissions such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are potential health, air quality, and regulatory concern. Odor and emissions can come from three primary source locations on a dairy farm: animal facilities, manure storages, and land application of manure.

2020 Dairy Manure Odor Perception and Management Series

Quantifying Emissions

Hydrogen Sulfide

Ammonia

  • Ammonia in Animal Production: a Review

Odor

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are increasingly important due to their tie to climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other agencies have performed research to quantify where most emissions come from and where we can reduce them.

Leading scientists throughout the U.S., as well as the EPA, have quantified the impacts of livestock production in the U.S., which accounts for 4.2 percent of all GHG emissions.

Greenhouse Gas from Dairy Manure

  • Sources of Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture - Jeni Wightman
  • Greenhouse Gas from Dairy Manure Management at the Farmstead - Peter Wright and Curt Gooch (2018)
  • Part 1: How are Greenhouse Gases Generated?
  • Part 2: Dairy Manure Management Impact on Methane
  • Part 3: Dairy Manure Management Impact on Nitrous Oxide
  • Part 4: Combining Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Dairy Manure Management
  • Part 5: GHG Reduction from Crusts on Storages
  • Part 6: GHG Reduction from Limiting Summer Storage
  • Part 7: GHG from Solid Storage Systems
  • Part 8: GHG Reduction from Solid-Liquid Separation Systems
  • Part 9: GHG Reduction from an Impermeable Cover
  • Part 10: GHG Reduction from an Anaerobic Digestion System

Anaerobic Digestion and GHG Emissions

Dairy Environmental Systems and Climate Adaptations Conference

Nutrient Management

Reducing the nutrient loss in the biological loop of crop production, animal feed and manure recycling to the land is being accomplished through precision feed management, manure management, and crop nutrient management. Cornell has done extensive work to minimize the inefficiencies and losses of nutrients on the dairy farm.

A primary source of information on nutrient management can be found on the Conrell Nutrient Management Spear Program webpage.

Nutrient Management Resources