Among the lush hills of central New York, the cows on Barbland Dairy enjoy nutritious, high-quality feed. The secret ingredient? Food waste.
Thanks to the team at Barbland Dairy, some food waste isn’t wasted at all. The farm’s co-owners, Bret Bossard, Chip Engst and Luke Huysman, use fruits, vegetables and bakery items deemed unsellable by grocery stores to feed their herd of 2,100 adult cows. For nearly a decade, their use of these items has diverted about 2.7 million pounds of waste from landfills each year, equating to 1,190 metric tons of CO2 emissions or the removal of 3,081 cars from roads.
How It Works
Barbland Dairy works with a waste management company that picks up the damaged or expired food items from large grocery chains like Walmart and delivers them to the farm two to three times per week. Once a load is dropped off, it’s sampled for nutrient content and incorporated into the cows’ feed, or Total Mixed Ration (TMR), with a combination of other ingredients like grains, supplements and silages.
Dairy farmers design TMRs with great care because good nutrition is key to healthy cows and quality milk production. Even though they’re unsellable to human consumers, the upcycled grocery items are still full of nutritional value and make a great, cost-effective TMR ingredient. In fact, Barbland Dairy feeds about 7,400 pounds of it every day.
While this use of food waste has become routine for the Barbland Dairy team, it’s not yet a widespread practice.
“There are not many farmers right now who do this because a few things make it tricky. We’re dealing with items that often come packaged so grocery store employees need to unpackage everything and put it into totes before the waste handler picks it up,” shared Bret. “I once reached out to a regional retailer near us about the possibility of starting a similar partnership but they just couldn’t come up with a good way to handle the product. For this type of venture to work out at the scale we do, the grocery chains need to be quite large and have good infrastructure.”
Produce and bakery items aren’t the only resources that are upcycled on Barbland Dairy. The farm also uses whey from local businesses, which is a byproduct from the making of dairy foods like cheese and yogurt.
“We’re pretty close to a yogurt plant as well as a facility that makes cream cheese and sour cream. We use their whey as a supplement in our feed and manage that relationship very similarly to the grocery waste,” shared Bret.
While utilizing food waste, Barbland Dairy also prevents feed waste by sending their leftover TMRs down the road to feed their neighbor’s goats.
Reducing More Than Food Waste
While not every dairy farm may have the ability to use food waste on the scale Barbland Dairy does, many other waste-reduction practices have become standard in the dairy industry.
For instance, manure may not seem like much to us, but for dairy farmers, it’s a valuable resource. Barbland Dairy grows 4,800 acres of crops to feed their animals, and their manure plays an important role. “We sample and test both our manure and the soil in our fields for nutrient levels so we know where nutrients are needed,” shared Bret. “Then we can maximize the use of our manure while minimizing the amount of commercial fertilizer we need to purchase.”
Water is another valuable resource dairy farmers recycle in creative ways. On Barbland Dairy, the water used in the cooling system that chills their milk is recycled as clean drinking water to quench their cows.
Farming for the Future
Farmers like Bret are constantly striving toward a sustainable future for their farm. That means doing what’s right for the environment, their animals and their bottom line.
“It’s not something we do so we can make a headline article in a newspaper,” said Bret. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s how we can continue our business for years to come. We need the highest level of nutrition and the best animal care so our cows can perform to the best of their ability. People don’t realize that the sustainability buzzword is something that, as the original stewards of the land, farmers have been working on for decades. We just haven’t necessarily always called it ‘sustainability.’”
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