Dairy farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region are facing the worst economic climate most of them have seen in their lives. For four years, the price many farmers are getting paid for their milk is lower than the cost to make the milk. Depression and suicide rates are high in the industry. Farmers facing bankruptcy risk the loss of their home, their way of life, and a farm that may have been in their family for generations.
It’s hard to imagine that dairy farmers in the Chesapeake Bay region can bear this financial stress and still find the time and resources for conservation. Yet incredibly, many are doing just that. Nearly 80 dairy farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania are working with our custom manure applicator partners to try a new way of land applying manure as a fertilizer – injecting it below the soil surface – that cuts the loss of phosphorus to surface waters by as much as a third compared to the standard method of applying manure to the soil surface.
Additionally, ten small dairy farms in Maryland are making major investments in critical conservation infrastructure with funding support from Sustainable Chesapeake’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program project. These investments will help farmers to better time manure application to crop growth, thereby reducing the loss of manure nutrients to surface and groundwater resources. In addition to the farmers who are partnering with Sustainable Chesapeake, many other dairy farmers in the region likewise remain committed to conservation and are also investing in clean water practices.
Needless to say, we are inspired and grateful for the opportunity to partner with such hardworking and conscientious people.
If you appreciate the efforts of Chesapeake Bay dairy farmers to keep on farming and protect our land and water resources as much as we do, there is a way you can help. When you are shopping for dairy products, look for brands produced by farmers in your state, or in the Chesapeake Bay region. In Maryland and Virginia, look for Maola, HP Wood, Kroger, Shamrock, Giant, and Cloverland brand milk. Check out the Choose PA Dairy website that lists brands and ways to identify milk products made from Pennsylvania dairy farms. The website “Where is My Milk From?” shows you how to locate the code on the dairy product container (printed near the top, on the lid, or even right on the label) so you can identify the state and the specific location where the milk was processed. If the code starts with 51, the product was processed in Virginia. A code that starts with 24 means the product was processed in Maryland, and code 42 is for Pennsylvania-processed products.
Buying local makes a big difference. In a report produced for Virginia’s the Shenandoah Valley region, Virginia Tech found that if households spent just 15% of their total grocery dollars on local food it would generate an additional $90 million in new farm income. When it comes to healthy food and clean water, we are all in this together.