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December 8, 2005

San Francisco, CA — It might not smell like gold, but cow manure may look almost as valuable to savvy dairy farmers. Third-generation dairy farmer Gary Crowell of Bar Vee Dairy in Turlock, California is saving thousands of dollars a year by using his 700 heifers' manure to fertilize the crops that feed them, instead of buying commercial nitrogen fertilizer. This process also keeps the manure nutrients from polluting local waterways.

"This is a no-brainer," says Crowell. "It pays for itself, strengthens your profits and keeps you in compliance with environmental regulations. I'm amazed more dairy producers aren't doing it." Crowell is saving approximately $110 an acre annually on 275 acres.

Dairy farmers like Crowell play a crucial role in protecting the waterways. Today California dairy producers gathered in Fresno to learn more about the manure management practices that have proven cost-effective and environmentally beneficial on dairy farms around the state. The conference is jointly hosted by Sustainable Conservation and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno.

"California dairy producers are making improvements in their operations that benefit us all by protecting clean air and water," said Ed Burton California State Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service. "They step forward and do the right thing voluntarily when they have the information and technical assistance they need, and, in some cases, financial assistance. These manure management practices help keep the industry vigorous and profitable, which is important for the State of California."

"Given high natural gas prices, which account for 90% of commercial fertilizer production costs, managing manure so that nutrients are recovered and used to grow crops instead of being lost to the environment can boost farm profits," said Kristen Hughes, Dairies Project Manager at Sustainable Conservation.

The price of natural gas has risen more than 70% over the last five years. That alone increased Gary Crowell's savings by more than 30%. In a single year, farmers around the nation paid $2 to $3 billion more in increased fertilizer costs.

"Smart manure management is a natural extension of the ways dairy farmers manage their other assets — their financial assets, reproductive assets, feed assets and so forth," said Jon Robison, Professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno. "The nutrients we feed to livestock either are converted to milk or meat for human consumption, or are converted to manure. The focus now is to recycle these nutrients through the farm ground to produce crops that feed the livestock. In this way, dairymen are bringing that ecosystem into balance."

Manure can also be used to generate electricity or produce a gas that fuels vehicles. Allen Dusault, Director of Sustainable Agriculture program for Sustainable Conservation, said, "California has a tremendous amount of 'cow power' available, with 1.7 million dairy cows that could produce enough electricity to power about 120,000 homes or fuel all the natural gas vehicles in the state." This can provide an additional income stream for dairy farmers while reducing greenhouse gas emissions — which contribute to global warming — and reducing odors and pathogens.

Many of the manure management practices being used by California dairy producers were featured in a recent report by the National Dairy Environmental Stewardship Council, entitled "Cost-Effective and Environmentally Beneficial Dairy Manure Management Practices." It's available online at

Additional sponsors of the Manure Management Workshop are: California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Agricultural Technology Institute and the California State University Agricultural Research Initiative.

Sustainable Conservation partners with business, agriculture and government leaders to find practical ways that the private sector can protect clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems. The independent nonprofit organization leads powerful collaborations that produce lasting solutions and sustain the vitality of both the economy and the environment. Recent accomplishments include: demonstrating "conservation tillage," which decreases particulate air pollution while reducing farmers' energy and labor costs; establishing a set of business practices for automobile recyclers to keep toxic materials out of the waterways; and creating a regulatory framework for private landowners to get prompt one-stop approval of sound habitat restoration projects.

Located in Central California, the heart of the world's most productive agricultural region, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (CAST) at Fresno State improves the environment and quality of life through education, research and public service. It specializes in agriculture production and management, food and nutrition, technology and the family. The college provides undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs emphasizing problem-solving, basic sciences, up-to-date technology and business management techniques. The faculty and staff provide students with "hands on" education through applied research, service activities, industry internships and farm production projects. This "hands on" approach is made possible by the University's internationally acclaimed 1,083-acre University Farm Laboratory and the California Agricultural Technology Institute (CATI). Fresno State is the only university in the nation whose viticulture and enology program is bonded to bottle, label and commercially sell its student-produced, award-winning Fresno State Wines.