My Turn: For New England dairy farmers, being green is nothing new

  • FILE PHOTO/GEOFF FORESTER

Published: 4/21/2021 6:19:14 AM

This month, we mark Earth Day, which was established to remind all of us of the importance of protecting the planet, but for dairy farmers across New England, being green is nothing new.

Dairy farmers work daily to preserve and protect the environment so that future generations can have the same beautiful land to call home. We constantly learn new ways to safeguard our water, land, and other valuable resources, as we embrace new technologies and innovations.

I am a fourth-generation dairy farmer. My great-grandparents established River-Maple Farm in Bernardston in 1912, and today, my sister, Rena, and I work with my parents to continue our family’s dairying tradition. With 300 acres and a milking herd of 60 cows, we remain proud of our history and connection to the land, just as we constantly look for better, earth-friendly ways to improve our operation.

In 2020, we installed a solar panel in the milking parlor and one in the calf barn, to provide a way to heat water. This allowed us to eliminate the use of costly propane, saving us money as we rely on renewable energy. This year, we are setting up a larger solar panel array on an unused portion of land to generate electricity for use by the local community, energy which will be available at a reduced cost for the benefit of our neighbors.

We plant cover crops to reduce soil erosion and practice crop rotation to avoid depleting nutrients, and we also are investigating various manure management techniques to make our operation even more efficient.

Yes, we’re proud of our earth-friendly practices, and we’re not alone:

■ Twenty percent of New England cropland has a winter cover crop, compared to the national average of 5 percent. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, sequester carbon, and infuse nutrients into the soil. Many farms, like the Gervais Farm in Vermont, use aerial seeding of cover crops by helicopter. They also utilize live GPS tracking programs in their farm equipment to determine where to plant crops to improve yields. GPS also locates which areas of fields need fertilizer and which don’t.

■ In New England, 27 farms utilize digesters to turn manure into power, according to the EPA anaerobic digester database. Eight of them are at dairy farms in Massachusetts. Many digesters also process food waste. Together, New England digesters make enough energy to power the equivalent of nearly 60,000 homes per year with clean renewable energy.

■ Digesters also provide useful byproducts. The liquid by-product is used as a natural fertilizer on the fields and the solid plant fibers leftover are used as sterile cow bedding. If we didn’t have manure, we would have to replace this natural, organic fertilizer with carbon-intensive synthetic fertilizer. At Freund’s Farm in Connecticut, they make compostable planting containers called CowPots from the by-product of their methane digester.

These projects are only part of the total picture. Tending our herds, cultivating our fields, busy with everyday chores, large and small, we New England dairy farmers understand that being environmentally responsible makes good sense, since we are so connected to the local landscape. We also are part of a recently announced U.S. dairy industry initiative that sets aggressive new environmental sustainability goals. The dairy industry plans to be carbon neutrality or better, optimize water usage and improve water quality by 2050. These 2050 goals support a vision that dairy can be an environmental solution.

Entrepreneurial in nature and innovative to a fault, your New England dairy farmers are hard-working men and women who figure out practical solutions to most problems, and more often than not, that solution is environmentally ‘green.’

I remember my mother telling my sister and I that we don’t really own the farm — we are taking care of it for the next generation. That is our mission, and we are doing all we can to be good stewards of the land and responsible caretakers of our herds. That means new technologies and old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity to improve our dairy farm operations and protect the planet.

I’m proud of my family and our farm, as we continue to look for green solutions, and we all can play our part in helping to protect Mother Earth.

Regina Grover is part of the fourth generation at River-Maple Farm, a 100-year-old family farm located in Bernardston. The family raises Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss dairy cattle.


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