Following is an interview conducted with Sandra Tapia, an industry relations representative for Dairy Max, about environmental issues in the dairy industry.
Q. What are some of the methods dairy farmers use to recycle water?
A. Water is recycled three times: to cool milk, wash the facilities, and to water crops. Dairies have to recycle the water. Without water, a dairy cannot operate.
Q. How important is it for dairies to recycle water?
A. It’s important. Water is an important resource. Without water, dairies cannot be efficient. Dairies need quality water for cows to produce. Many people think that dairies are using all the water, and they aren’t. One cow will use 44 gallons of water per day, and a human will use 125 gallons per day. It’s a big difference.
Q. How does recycling the water impact the area?
A. Communities also need water and dairy farmers take this into consideration. They are not going to use up a precious resource.
Q. What is the purpose of a monitoring well?
A. To make sure the water is high quality and to make sure nothing is harming the water. Dairy farmers are required to keep records to show proof that they are monitoring the wells. Inspectors will visit two to three times a year to monitor the wells.
Q. How many monitoring wells is a dairy required to have?
A. When a dairy farmer applies for a permit, the government agency will tell them what they need, according to the size and the area.
Q. Who regulates the monitoring wells?
A. The Environmental Protection Agency helps and guides dairy (farmers) in how and what they need to do, and of course other local agencies (do as well).
Q. What are some of the regulations dairy farmers have to follow in order to operate and keep operating?
A. Even before a dairy starts, they have to apply for permits and have a plan that is presented to local agencies. The government agencies have a lot to do with how a dairy farm is set up. They also have to apply for or buy water rights.
Q. Who is responsible for ensuring that these are regulated?
A. The EPA does all of that, plus local government agencies that follow guidelines that are set up. The dairy farmers are always in touch with these agencies to ensure that they are following regulations and are up-to-date. It’s an everyday job.
Q. How does water usage from a dairy affect water usage for the rest of the population?
A. Well, there’s not much of an impact. Dairies do use water, but it is very minimal. They do recycle and they are very conscientious of the water availability. Government agencies would not give out permits if they knew there was a water shortage.
Q. How does dairy water usage compare to other industries?
A. Compared to crop farmers, it is very minimal. Dairy farmers do not use as much water.
Q. What economic impact do dairies have on the area and New Mexico?
A. It’s the first agricultural cash crop. It provides jobs. It’s a big thing. Dairy farmers also need the services of veterinarians, feed suppliers and retailers. That’s how they impact. It’s very positive. There’s a lot of revenue coming in from dairies. Milk wholesale sales contribute to 38 percent of the state’s agriculture revenues.
Q. How many employees are typically employed on a dairy?
A. For every 100 cows, there is one job on the dairy.
Q. What methods are available to control the smell produced by dairies?
A. Dairy farmers work with universities and third parties to ensure they contain the smells as much as they can.
Q. How are nitrate levels monitored?
A. By hiring third parties to inspect and check the levels. We want to keep a high-quality water system, and the soil needs to be high quality to grow crops. Dairy farmers also want to keep high-quality land, not only for their animals but for their families.
Q. What are other ways dairies are working to improve the environment?
A. Some have methane digesters and use them to convert into an energy source. Dairies for the longest time have been implementing new techniques to keep the environment clean and conserve their natural resources. Dairy farmers today are working towards the future by recycling water and other resources.
— Compiled by PNT Staff Writer Casey Peacock