By Nate Birt

Q&A With Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout And Dairy West Vice President Of Sustainability Marissa Watson

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March 24, 2022

Producers turn to their peers for insights on new practices and technologies while balancing environmental stewardship with daily priorities such as labor availability and succession planning.

Idaho dairy farmers think holistically about sustainability, balancing the need for strong environmental stewardship with daily priorities including labor availability and positioning their operations to transition to the next generation, says Rick Naerebout, CEO of Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA). Organizations seeking to support dairy farmers in that state on their sustainability journey should keep those nuances top of mind.

“We’ve looked at the [dairy industry’s national] 2050 goals and started to work through and understand them better,” Naerebout explains in a February 2022 dairy sustainability spotlight interview (full audio below) with Farm Journal’s Trust In Food. “The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has been a great partner for us. … We’ve really focused on what kind of research can we execute here in the western U.S. that helps us answer those questions and helps provide our dairymen a better perspective as to the various ways that they might be able to begin to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint and get to where we start to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality.”

Trust In Food Dairy Sustainability Spotlight Interview: Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout And Dairy West Vice President Of Sustainability Marissa Watson

Water scarcity increasingly is a concern in western states such as Idaho and especially Utah, adds Marissa Watson, vice president of sustainability at Dairy West. Farmers and researchers continue to explore technologies that can reduce water consumption and improve water quality, helping achieve the collective industry’s goals on water quantity and quality.

“Sustainability comes up in the sense that our farmers don’t know what’s coming down the pike next,” Watson says. “What’s going to be asked of them? How are we measuring this, and what’s going to count toward these 2050 goals? That’s what Rick and I are trying to help develop a roadmap toward.”

To support Idaho dairy producers explore sustainability opportunities, IDA and Dairy West have partnered with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and America’s Conservation Ag Movement—organized by Farm Journal’s Trust In Food division—to provide resources for a farmer-to-farmer learning community. Such farmer meetings, informed by knowledgeable producers on working dairies, can create space for producers to visit other operations and explore new technology and innovation.

“I think it’s exceptionally valuable,” Naerebout says. He points out that when Idaho dairy producers evaluate bringing a new practice or technology onto their farms, “one of the first things they do is they look around the region or around the country and say, ‘OK, who else has done this? And can I go visit what they’ve done to learn from their experiences? That’s really what this learning network is—trying to connect dairymen and be able to share experiences, and what has and hasn’t worked.”

Sustainability activities extend beyond the Idaho farm gate to include processors. For example, Dairy West partners with Build Dairy, a collection of research institutions across the U.S. committed to research advancing dairy processors’ sustainability, Watson says. Among 11 sustainability research priorities Build Dairy has identified are assessing soil organic carbon storage for various conservation ag practices and evaluating the greenhouse gas impacts of various types of manure handling and storage.

“It’s unified us as a region to make sure that we’re all rowing the boat in the same direction,” Watson explains. To learn more about dairy sustainability efforts underway in Idaho, listen to the audio interview attached to this article.

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