Dairies are a way of life, not just business

Sharon Lombardi: Guest columninst

Apples are not oranges and Eastern New Mexico isn’t the San Joaquin Valley.

It’s unfair and inaccurate to discuss issues that may appear to be similar but really are different. In response to some dairy-industry critics:

Yes, there has been an influx of dairies from California to New Mexico. They came to New Mexico for a lot of different reasons — some had relatives here, some came because of encroachment of cities on their farms, some came because of New Mexico’s climate, which is excellent for dairy cattle, some came because of the ready-made feedstuff that New Mexico farmers were growing and some came for all of those reasons.

As far as environmental reasons, all states have environmental regulations, and dairy is the highest regulated agricultural sector. Furthermore, New Mexico has many environmental regulations that are more stringent than our surrounding states because we have different environmental concerns.

Eastern New Mexico isn’t in a valley surrounded by mountains. We are a high plains desert where the wind blows and air moves. Nevertheless, New Mexico dairies will be working with the Environmental Protection Agency on an air quality study for our region.

It’s important to remember that our dairies are all family owned and most of the families live on their dairies. Many are young families and they care about the health of their families. So if there were health concerns, you would see a high concentration of certain conditions among these families, and there isn’t.

The dairy industry wants facts when it’s dealing with issues. That is why we’re participating in the EPA study. Once we have good scientific data we will take any action accordingly needed. We always have and we always will.

Recently a dairy producer asked me a thought-provoking question to illustrate a point. He said “If you had a choice of being in a garage with a running car or with a cow, which one would you choose?” Obviously anyone would say a cow since the running car could kill you, the cow won’t.

Farmers have always been good stewards of the land. They live there, they work there and they grow food for our nation. Dairy farms are highly regulated. They have to comply with many, many regulations that the state and EPA impose. It’s not a choice, they have to. They also have to comply with New Mexico Department of Agriculture and they have to purchase water rights from the Office of the State Engineer.

Speaking of water, there is a lot of misinformation out there about dairy water use. Dairy owners purchase water rights that would otherwise be used for something else. Dairies also recycle their water two to three times, along with the manure, which is good organic fertilizer.

Again, the farm is regulated and they have to keep records on crops and soil samples several times a year. Each dairy farmer has to keep good records to document almost everything done on the farm.

Dairying has changed over the last couple of decades and it will continue to change. We are producing more food on less land. Our American farmer needs to be thanked for we have safe, affordable and abundant food in this country.

According to the American Farm Bureau, U.S. consumers spend just 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food. That is comparatively low compared to most European countries. Our New Mexico and West Texas dairy families have made an investment for themselves and for their families. They will strive to take care of their homes, their farms, their cattle and feed our nation.

It is a way of life, not just a business.

It’s not about comparing apples to oranges. It is simply about milk.

Sharon Lombardi is executive director of Dairy Producers of New Mexico. Contact her at 505-622-1646.