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October 10, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Dairies around the nation are proving that, with the right technologies and practices, they can capture the agricultural and economic value of manure nutrients while reducing manure's impact on air quality, water quality and global warming. A new report by the National Dairy Environmental Stewardship Council shows how innovative dairy producers are transforming a challenging waste product into a valuable farm asset. The report also provides recommendations for how national policies and programs can better support efforts to develop, demonstrate and implement effective manure management tools and technologies.

"Manure is an ideal fertilizer for crops," said Kristen Hughes, Dairies Project Manager at Sustainable Conservation, a leader of the Council. "Manure becomes even more economical relative to inorganic commercial fertilizer when natural gas prices rise, since natural gas accounts for up to 90% of inorganic fertilizer production costs."

In recent years, the price of natural gas has more than doubled, and in a single year farmers around the nation paid $2 to $3 billion more in increased fertilizer costs. Exacerbated by the impact of recent hurricanes on Gulf Coast refineries, government forecasters are expecting significant increases in natural gas prices again this year. "That makes manure a very attractive fertilizer option for farmers and encourages dairy farmers to manage manure wisely and sell any excess to local farmers," Hughes explained.

"In the face of increasing pressure to address water quality, air quality, odor and other conservation challenges, dairy farmers of all sizes are finding they need better, more innovative ways to manage and utilize their manure," said Suzy Friedman, Staff Scientist at Environmental Defense. "Development, demonstration and implementation of economically viable manure management tools and technologies are critical to the survival of this important industry."

Manure can also be used to produce renewable energy through the process of anaerobic digestion. Minnesota dairy farmer Dennis Haubenchild reports, "My methane digester is producing enough electricity to run my operation plus another 80 residential homes." If installed on all U.S. dairies, methane digesters could generate enough electricity to power approximately 600,000 homes and provide an additional income stream for dairy farmers. At the same time, the technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, and reduces odors and pathogens.

The National Dairy Environmental Stewardship Council is a collaboration between dairy producers, environmental organizations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and academics, which was formed by Sustainable Conservation and Environmental Defense.

The report, "Cost-Effective and Environmentally Beneficial Dairy Manure Management Practices," provides detailed examples of cost-effective manure management strategies to assist producers in matching manure nutrients to crop needs and capturing nutrients in dairy manure, as well as specific quantified results. For example, producers in California's Central Valley are eliminating commercial fertilizer purchases and saving up to $100 per acre annually by using land application techniques that match manure nutrients to crop growth. This technique allows farmers to maximize the crop's uptake of manure nutrients while minimizing groundwater contamination.

Some producers have reduced production costs and energy consumption and increased their net profit per cow threefold with a practice called management intensive grazing. Instead of confining cows in one place and growing crops to feed them, cows are rotated through paddocks where they graze on grass and deposit manure directly on fields. Done properly, this can benefit soil and water quality.

"Cost-Effective and Environmentally Beneficial Dairy Manure Management Practices" and a related report on policy recommendations, "Strategies for Increasing Implementation and Fostering Innovation in Dairy Manure Management," are available at

National Dairy Environmental Stewardship Council Members
Marsha Campbell Matthews (Farm Advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension), Glenn Carpenter (Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service), Leslie Cooperband (Extension Specialist, University of Illinois), Art Darling (Executive Director, Sunshine State Milk Producers), Nathan DeBoom (Chief of Staff, Milk Producers Council) Allen Dusault (Program Director, Sustainable Conservation), Suzy Friedman (Staff Scientist and Agricultural Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense, Center for Conservation Initiatives), Rick Koelsch (Livestock Environmental Engineer, University of Nebraska), Joseph Harner III (Professor, Kansas State University), J. Mark Powell (Research Soil Scientist, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center), Kelly Shenk (U.S. EPA, Chesapeake Bay Program), John Sweeten (Resident Director, Texas A &M Research and Extension Center), Ann Wilkie (Associate Professor, University of Florida), Peter Wright (New York State Conservation Engineer, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service; Northeast Dairy Producers Association)

About Sustainable Conservation
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. For more information, visit

About Environmental Defense
Environmental Defense is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 400,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems. Environmental Defense is dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people, including future generations. Among these rights are clean air, clean water, healthy food and flourishing ecosystems. The organization is guided by scientific evaluation of environmental problems, advocating for solutions based on science, even when it leads in unfamiliar directions, and working to create solutions that are nonpartisan, cost-effective and fair. With major support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and a private donor, Environmental Defense created the Center for Conservation Incentives to develop and expand incentives for the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity on working farms, ranches, non-industrial forestlands and other private lands. For more information, visit