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Sustainable Conservation, Netafim USA, Western United Dairies, De Jager Dairy and Michael McRee Dairy were honored on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with the 2020 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award for Outstanding Community Contribution for our subsurface drip irrigation system that uses manure instead of synthetic fertilizers. The award, given by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, celebrates innovative partnerships between businesses and dairy farms whose impacts balance economically viable, socially responsible, and environmentally sound stewardship practices.

For over 25 years, Sustainable Conservation has built a theory of change on the bedrock of inclusive partnerships and innovation. Together, and only together, we can successfully steward our most precious natural resources for all Californians. Our focus on a sustainable, clean, and plentiful water supply means we’re building transformative, science-based solutions with California agriculture. Our agricultural economy feeds and leads the nation, and our community water security is critical. We believe that environmental solutions can also make economic sense. Engaging dairy producers whose daily work requires nimble thinking can lead to significant water quality and emissions wins that benefit all our communities.

Conceived in partnership with Netafim USA and De Jager Dairy, this first-of-its-kind subsurface drip irrigation system helps dairy producers use the manure their cows produce to irrigate their feed crops in ways that protect water quality, reduce input costs, and help the industry move the needle on environmental gains. The system received a competitive 2016 United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant to scale to three San Joaquin Valley dairies of varying sizes and management practices – with university, private lab, and industry partners on board to demonstrate and promote the system.

Together, we’ve developed and proven a new technology that transforms dairy waste from a potential pollutant to a valuable resource while reducing nitrate contamination of groundwater and irrigation-related greenhouse gas emissions. The system allows the same, or more, corn to be grown with approximately 36% less water applied, 45% less nitrogen applied, and 70% less irrigation-related greenhouse gas emissions as compared to traditional flood irrigation.

Based on our work to demonstrate the system’s benefit to both the environment and farmers, NRCS is providing nationwide cost-share funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In California, EQIP currently covers up to 80% of installation costs for dairy producers interested in adopting the technology. Sustainable Conservation and Netafim USA continue outreach to the California dairy industry, with eight dairies currently working to install the system in 2020. Netafim USA is also exploring national scaling, including moving beyond dairies to hog farms and food processing effluent.

“This advancement is a prime example of how our proven track record of forging on-the-ground partnerships, testing and proving innovative technologies, and scaling economically viable solutions lead to substantial, lasting environmental wins,” said Ashley Boren, Sustainable Conservation Chief Executive Officer. “California is a drought-prone state, and technologies that help California dairies be more water efficient while protecting critical groundwater quality are vital, especially as the state plans for long-term groundwater sustainability.”

“Lasting change really only comes from listening to the people who work every day, on the ground, to hear about the challenges they face and their innovative approaches to meeting them,” said John Cardoza, Sustainable Conservation Senior Project Manager. “We’re deeply grateful to our partners at De Jager Dairy and Michael McRee Dairy for their perseverance and willingness to take the time to develop new technologies with their extensive knowledge. We’ve also been extremely fortunate to work with Netafim USA and for their expertise and equipment to develop the solution, and we look forward to scaling it together.”

“Using our dairy manure to fertilize our feed crops isn’t a new idea, but we needed a way to do it that was different from flood irrigating as we switched to drip during California’s last drought,” said Nate Ray, De Jager Dairy Chief Executive Officer. “We contacted Sustainable Conservation because we’d worked with them to implement on-farm solutions before. They’re a trusted partner, and together with Netafim USA and all our collaborators, we’re pleased to have an innovative piece of tech that works in our daily operations.”

“Every day, dairy farmers meet major challenges – not the least of which is working with limited water resources as sustainably as possible,” said Domonic Rossini, Netafim USA Agronomic Relationship Manager. “We teamed up with Sustainable Conservation to demonstrate and promote a new, environmentally-smart technology to help farmers close the loop on nutrient use and water efficiency. We’re thrilled with the progress our partnership has made, and honored to receive this recognition.”

“This cutting-edge irrigation system helps dairy producers utilize their on-farm nutrients efficiently,” said Paul Sousa, Western United Dairies Director of Environmental Services and Regulatory Affairs. “It’s an important new tool for dairies to consider in light of groundwater and water quality regulations. Sustainable Conservation’s leadership role in evolving this system from an idea to a real, scalable practice is remarkable.”

“Despite facing many pressures, California farmers are resilient and always look for ways to lead in environmental stewardship. Sustainable Conservation crafts practical technology and solutions in lockstep with farmers and industry partners that lead to enduring environmental solutions,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of Agriculture. “This new drip system helps California dairies produce healthy milk while reducing their water and greenhouse gas impacts, and serves as a model for dairy producers across the U.S.”

“As we move our sustainability efforts from sustaining resources to regenerating them, innovations like Sustainable Conservation and Netafim USA’s subsurface drip irrigation management tool have been critical as we seek to manage water resources and food production,” said Mary Jane Melendez, General Mills Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer. “It is imperative that we identify solutions for those who can make some of the biggest regenerative impacts: the farmer.”

The award was announced on Wednesday, April 22 at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Spring Dairy Sustainability Alliance Webinar, in lieu of the planned in-person meeting in Chicago, IL. The in-person awards ceremony is scheduled for November 17, 2020 at the Dairy Sustainability Alliance Fall Meeting in Phoenix, AZ. Registration information will be available in the near future.

About Sustainable Conservation

Founded in San Francisco in 1993, Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing our land, air, and water. Every day, we bring together business, landowners and government to steward the resources that we all depend on in ways that are just and make economic sense.