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Making the Grade

Environmental practices on all dairies in the United States are tightly regulated by both federal and state agencies. While requirements vary from state to state, dairy farmers must meet these standards to stay in business. In fact, many farms go beyond what is asked of them. 

Regulations and Standards – Dairies work with many government agencies to ensure our nation’s natural resources are protected. These organizations include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state departments of agriculture and local governments. Each dairy farm is required to submit and follow detailed manure recycling plans specific to each dairy. These plans, known as nutrient management plans, are continually updated to reflect new technologies as well as changes in regulations and legislation. 

Dairies of All Sizes Need Permits – Dairy farms are required to obtain special environmental permits to demonstrate they understand their responsibility for environmental stewardship. Permit rules hold the farms accountable for the number of animals on their land and the waste management practices to handle the manure on their dairy. 

Routine Inspections – The dairy industry is one of the most regulated and inspected industries in agriculture. As part of the regulation process, dairies are regularly inspected by both state and federal employees to ensure clean water and to minimize environmental impacts in years to come. These inspections are scheduled and can also be unannounced, so farmers must always be ready to show an inspector around their dairy. Water and soil samples are commonly taken during these inspections to determine compliance. 

Ongoing Research – Dairy farmers spend millions of their own dollars each year, in partnership with land grant universities, to identify new strategies to protect the natural resources of dairies across the country. One recent example is a voluntary monitoring program to study air emissions and dairy farm compliance with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. There’s always more work under way to make sure dairy farms have a positive, lasting effect on local communities and the planet as a whole.


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