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2022 Projects: Dairy Sustainability Key Performance Indicators

What opportunities are available to improve sustainability on your dairy farm?

Whole-farm analyses are key to regenerative agriculture, and environmental stewardship is a foundational pillar for animal agriculture's future. Our current approach using the whole-farm nutrient mass balance (NMB) evaluates N, P, and K nutrient use efficiency of participating farms. Experience shows that farms that pay attention to their whole-farm nutrient mass balance (NMB) tend to improve on those balances over time. Individual farm records show the improvements, especially in P management, and across the state we have been able to record a 20-30% reduction in N and P imports, translating into cost savings for the farms (greater economic sustainability), and a reduction in their environmental footprint. However, the dairy industry is increasingly asked to report more sustainability indicators, including ones related to greenhouse gas emissions, water use, water quality impacts, animal and plant production efficiencies, animal welfare, and biodiversity on farms. Additional key performance indicators (KPIs) are needed, as well as user-friendly and effective tools that accompany them.

In this project we are assessing a variety of KPI-related tools for their sustainability credentials (how comprehensive the tool is), their data input needs (amount and complexity of data), and the comparability of their results. We will also identify the key drivers of the results from each tool (e.g. crop yields, fertilizer use, feed purchases, herd replacement rate). This project will not only build on our existing understanding of dairy sustainability KPIs obtained from ongoing NMB work but will also help to focus on identification of management changes that have a positive impact on a range of dairy farm sustainability credentials. We then aim to develop recommendations for use of tools or specific KPIs that can be utilized by farmers to obtain robust and comprehensive sustainability assessments, and to accurately monitor the impact of management changes over time. This approach allows farms to set a roadmap for continuous improvement, meet the reporting requirements of co-operatives and retailers, and communicate better their current environmental achievements and future progress, while maintaining or improving dairy economic sustainability.

An additional key focus of this project is the education of high school students and undergraduate interns in whole-farm evaluation. The interns help to develop materials, collect farm information, analyze data, run software tools, and help produce summary reports for the participating farms, in collaboration with the Cornell University campus and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) teams. The interns also have the opportunity to gain knowledge on a range of dairy sustainability topics, assist with in-field data collection and sampling, write agronomy factsheets, and participate in other extension events. The students participate in project meetings and training sessions with those working on the dairy sustainability project and other NMSP projects, in addition to attending sessions with guest speakers actively working in dairy sustainability. They are guided in this by leading extension professionals, faculty, staff, and students, and get to interact with producers, agribusiness and other researchers. 

Our 2022 Interns

Will Salamone is a senior in Animal Science at Cornell University. He grew up in Livingston County, NY, and began working on a dairy in high school. Will is involved in the Cornell University Dairy Science Club and Alpha Gamma Rho with a leadership position. This summer Will is an intern with the NMSP working on the Chobani Dairy Sustainability project. His project aims to understand nutrients brought onto farms via by-product feeds and he is also working to create field nitrogen and phosphorus balance for participating farms. He believes this internship will be a great opportunity to learn more about sustainable practices within the dairy industry. Will shares his time with the South-Central NY Dairy and Field Crops team gaining exposure to Cornell Cooperative Extension. After graduation, Will plans to pursue a career working in the dairy industry.

Molly Mueller is a rising sophomore at Cornell University majoring in Environment and Sustainability. She grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario County, NY. She is a member of the Dairy Science club as well as Best Buddies, Beekeeping club, and a co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. Molly has joined the NMSP team for the summer to work on the Chobani Dairy Sustainability Project. She works with the Cool Farm Tool and Nutrient Mass Balance software and is evaluation impact of manure analyses and export on farm balances of case study farms. She is hoping to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture in the future, possibly on a global scale. With this internship, Molly hopes to learn more about the carbon footprints of farms and how they can take action to become more sustainable to preserve their trade and products for future generations.

Katie Bishop is a junior at SUNY ESF studying environmental science, and she is from Westchester, NY. Her passion for the environment grew stronger during the two years she studied at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). She joined her peers in trying to convince LMU to divest from fossil fuels in addition to researching microorganisms in the Ballona Wetlands. She became interested in regenerative farming when interacting with her family in Greece who have an olive and orange orchard. She joined the Chobani Dairy Sustainability Project this summer, working on nutrient mass balance assessments and biodiversity surveys.

Joe Kelly is a senior at Benedictine College in Kansas studying a Bachelor of Science in Biology. In his free time, Joe enjoys playing Irish music with friends as well as playing soccer. Agriculture and sustainability are primary interests which he would like to make a career out of after school. Joe is excited to be a part of the NMSP team to gain experience in agriculture research with a sustainability focus in dairy farming. This summer, Joe is located at the Miner Institute in Chazy, New York, a collaborator with the NMSP program. At Miner Institute, Joe will be evaluating soil and water records and derive nutrient balances for agricultural fields in addition to helping with data collection in the field. He will also be working on a factsheet on classification of tillage practices in NY for use in Cool Farm Tool.

Madi McCall is a sophomore majoring in Civil Engineering at Clarkson University, New York. She grew up and still lives on her grandparents farm in Whitney Point, which used to be a small dairy farm and is now a beef cow farm. They also raised chickens for both eggs and meat as well as pigs. In addition to being an intern with NMSP this summer, Madi is also an intern at A. Weiss Engineering in Cortland, New York. This summer Madi is trying to use what she knows about farming, alongside what she is learning about agricultural engineering, engineering in general, and sustainability to prepare for whatever career path she takes after graduation. At Clarkson, Madi plays club field hockey and is an active member of Clarkson's chapter of SWE (Society of Women Engineers).

Corrine Brown was a junior at Cornell University when she joned us in fall of 2021. She grew up on a small hobby farm in Clifton Springs, New York raising beef cattle and pigs for freezer trade and show. Corrine studies Agriculture Science with a concentration in Business Management. Outside of her schoolwork, she is a member of the Cornell University Dairy Science Club and carries leadership roles as an active sister of the Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority. Corrine joined the NMSP team after transferring from SUNY Morrisville. At NMSP, Corrine works with the Dairy Sustainability Team, assisting with their Net Zero Project. In this project, Corrine runs diverse carbon scenarios through various nutrient mass balance software technologies to analyze the sustainability standards of different dairy farms. Corrine finds a true passion in wanting to be a part of improving agricultural systems through increasing a profit for the farmer, protecting the environment, and providing a better quality of life for the community without compromising resources for future generations of farmers to come. She is currently interning with WNYCMA in western NY. Her future career goals consist of participating in crop consulting and giving advice to farmers as to how they can improve their operations to be more sustainable.

Our 2021 Interns

Megan Lamb was a senior at Cornell University studying Agriculture Science when she interned with us in the summer of 2022. She is from Hamilton, New York. Megan has enjoyed many activities through her college experience as an active sister of the Sigma Alpha Professional Agricultural Sorority, a member of the Cornell University Dairy Science Club. She is pursuing a concentration in education, as well as a minor in Horticulture. Megan chose to join the team in the summer of 2021 as a way to gain more industry and research experience in agriculture to bring into her agriculture classroom in the future. Megan looks forward to entering into a career in agriculture education and gaining more knowledge in dairy sustainability. In the summer of 2021, Megan was located at the Miner Institute in Chazy, New York evaluating soil and water quality records of the farm and the trends over time. Megan continues to work with us on high school curriculum development and is excited to be a part of this project and to learn valuable skills about the industry!

Lydia Young was a senior at SUNY Morrisville majoring in Dairy Management and Agricultural Mechanics. As part of the Dairy Sustainability Key Performance Indicators project, she worked on determining the environmental footprints of feeds that are commonly used on dairy farms. Lydia grew up on a 700-cow dairy farm in Cortland County and plans to return to her home farm in a few years to manage crop production and machinery. She enjoys driving trucks in her free time, and she is currently working on getting her private pilot license. Post graduation, Lydia has continued to work with us and the project for one day a week this winter.

Megan Wittmeyer was a senior in Agricultural Sciences at Cornell University when she interns with us in the summer of 2021. She grew up on a small dairy farm in Erie County where she has milked cows every summer she can remember (until the summer of 2021!). Megan was part of the CCE Summer Internship Program working under Janice Degni with the CCE South Central NY Dairy and Field Crops team. After graduation she plans to continue working on her family farm and possibly pursue a career in extension. In her spare time, Megan enjoys working outside, cooking, and reading novels. Megan graduated with a BSc in Agricultural Sciences in May of 2022.

Mikala Anderson is a fifth-generation dairy and beef farmer. She lives in Deposit, New York and was a junior at Cornell University when she joined our summer internship program. Her major is Agricultural Science with a concentration in education. Mikala enjoys spending time helping on her family's farm and riding her horses. She wants to pursue ag education or work for 4H on livestock projects when she graduates college. In the summer of 2020 and 2021 Mikala worked with Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Extension, researching the sustainability and environmental stewardship of organic and/or grass-fed dairy farms.

Jake Burri was a senior undergraduate at Cornell University, majoring in Environment & Sustainability and Biometry & Statistics when he joined our team. As an intern in the Dairy Sustainability Key Performance Indicators project, Jake's work focuses on assessing past, current, and feasible changes in practice for both nutrient mass balances (NMBs) and carbon emission scenarios for case-study farms. He will also create an economic and environmental cost-benefit analysis of different NMB and carbon footprint reduction strategies. Jake is originally from Southern California, and has an interest for environmental science and how it pertains to ecology, economics, agriculture, and other fields. He enjoys spending time outdoors by running, hiking, rowing, or whatever keeps him active, and focuses on incorporating sustainability in both his professional and personal life. Jake graduated with a BSc in May of 2022.

If you are interested in participating, contact Quirine Ketterings (qmk2@cornell.edu or 607-255-3061). You can also write to: Quirine Ketterings, Nutrient Management Spear Program, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, 323 Morrison Hall, Ithaca NY 14853.

Goals

The NMSP works with partners to build on the success of the currently ongoing whole-farm NMB work by (1) evaluating multiple sustainability KPIs for 13 case-study dairy farms statewide; (2) providing dairy farmers with practical, whole-farm solutions that help to reduce their environmental footprint while improving farm efficiency and economics; (3) developing popular press articles and agronomy factsheets on evaluation tools and whole-farm assessments for dairy; (4) summarizing and presenting information about the available tools and main findings at extension meetings; (5) educating high school students and undergraduate interns in whole-farm evaluation; and (6) developing student internship and case-study farm impact stories to highlight student and farmer experiences with the project.

Funding Sources

This project has been sponsored by grants from Chobani, Northern NY Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP), Towards Sustainability Foundation, and Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program.

Additional Resources

Farmer Impact Stories

Fact Sheets

Extension Articles

Journal Articles

  • Cela, S., Q.M. Ketterings, M., Soberon, C. Rasmussen, and K.J. Czymmek (2017). Upper Susquehanna watershed and New York State improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus mass balances of dairy farms. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 72(1):1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.2489/jswc.72.1.1.
  • Van Almelo, J., Q.M. Ketterings, and S. Cela (2016). Integrating record keeping with whole-farm nutrient mass balance: A case study. Journal of Agricultural Science 8:22-32. DOI: doi:10.5539/jas.v8n6p22.
  • Cela, S., Q.M. Ketterings, K.J. Czymmek, M. Soberon, and C.N. Rasmussen (2015). Long-term trends of nitrogen and phosphorus mass balances on New York dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science 98: 7052-7070.
  • Soberon, M., S. Cela, Q.M. Ketterings, C.N. Rasmussen, and K.J. Czymmek (2015). Changes in nutrient mass balances over time and related drivers for 54 New York dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science 98: 5313–5329. http://dx.doi.org/10.3168/jds.2014-9236.
  • Cela, S., Q.M. Ketterings, K.J. Czymmek, M. Soberon, and C.N. Rasmussen (2014). Characterization of N, P, and K mass balances of dairy farms in New York State. Journal of Dairy Science 97: 7614–7632.
  • Soberon, M.A., Q.M. Ketterings, C.N. Rasmussen, and K.J. Czymmek (2013). Whole-farm nutrient balance calculator for New York dairy farms. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Science Education (Renamed Natural Science Education) 42:57-67.
  • Ketterings, Q.M., K.J. Czymmek, D.B. Beegle, L.E. Chase, and C.N. Rasmussen (2012). Systematic nutrient (im) balances in dairy farm systems of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Journal of Agricultural Sciences 4:1-10. DOI:10.5539/jas.v4n11p.