“What do the cow think about?”
This is one of the unexpected questions Land O’Lakes member-owner Steve Harnish says he gets from local elementary school students when he hosts annual farm tours at his third-generation farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Every year, Steve’s family organizes these field trips to Central Manor Dairy for nearly 100 third graders in an effort to educate them about the hard work that goes into managing a farm sustainably.
“As a farmer, I know first-hand the importance we play in feeding a rapidly growing world, while also taking care of our environment. We are lucky to be located right next to a local elementary school, so we bring four classrooms to our farm every year. Not to just show the kids our animals, buildings or machinery. We make sure they see with their own eyes our sustainable management practices that include a riparian buffer, manure storage system and our no-till operation. This is the advocacy work we do that is the most meaningful because it helps kids at a young age understand the challenges our teams go through to meet consumer expectations and the economic reality for farmers,” said Steve.
Steve says once students see these sustainable practices in action, their questions start to get more technical.
“They want to know more about how some farms can turn manure from waste to fuel and ask us to explain the cycle of harvesting crops and then returning nutrients to the field to fertilize the next crop. You can also see the surprise on their faces when they see the effort and precision it takes for us to mix the correct ingredients for our cows’ rations. The best questions usually come from the youngest students.”
Steve recently hosted a special event at Central Manor Dairy to celebrate an expanded initiative between The Hershey Company, Land O’Lakes, Inc. and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (Alliance), funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA and Hershey announced the joint commitment of $2 million to support local dairy farmers in Pennsylvania. The Alliance, in collaboration with Land O’Lakes, Inc., will use the funds to promote the adoption of practices that support local and regional environmental goals with dairy farmers like Steve in Land O’Lakes’ eastern region milk shed.
The Alliance, Hershey, and Land O’Lakes have been working together since 2021 on an initiative called “Sustainable Dairy PA.” The initiative takes a collaborative, industry-led and public sector-supported approach to accelerate on-farm conservation efforts to help improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since its launch, 45 farmers have already implemented or are in the process of implementing new sustainability practices.
The Alliance, Hershey, and Land O’Lakes have been working together since 2021 on an initiative called “Sustainable Dairy PA.” The initiative takes a collaborative, industry-led and public sector-supported approach to accelerate on-farm conservation efforts to help improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over 45 farmers have been engaged in this initiative to-date, working on a variety of practice changes across Pennsylvania. Through this Sustainable Dairy PA, farms are analyzed by technical experts, so all practice change recommendations are tailored to fit the needs of each farm. Examples of practice changes include installation of riparian buffers, barnyard stabilization techniques, adding or changing manure storage solutions and water run-off reduction solutions.
“Collaborative initiatives like Sustainable Dairy PA endeavor to provide the necessary incentives to drive voluntary practice changes that not only help contribute to the health of the planet, but also help better position farmers for success in a challenging operating environment,” said Tim Leviny, Land O’Lakes Senior Vice President of Global Dairy Ingredients & International.
As a cooperative, and largely enabled by our ag sustainability business Truterra, LLC, Land O’Lakes has taken a leadership position in on-farm sustainability by helping customers achieve their environmental goals, while keeping farmer profitability at the forefront. The continued expansion of this industry-led initiative serves as a valuable endorsement of a farmer-first approach to sustainable agriculture.
“My family has been adopting sustainable practices on our farm for decades and it is a continuous process. As we look ahead, we want to further our impact on water quality. Being a part of the Land O’Lakes cooperative system provides an opportunity for farmers like us to access resources and funding,” said Steve.
The hope is that the increased funding for the initiative will help more local farmers invest in the implementation of manure storage facilities, soil health practices, riparian forest buffers and other efforts to enhance sustainability on Land O’Lakes member dairy farms.
“I hope today’s event will showcase the challenges the ag industry faces and the ways we can work to ensure a safe and plentiful food supply for the kids who visit my farm, and the future generations to come by working together,” said Steve.
You can read the full announcement for the initiative here.