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Press Release

Conservation Efforts in North Carolina’s Dairy Industry

Two black and white cows graze in a bright green field at sunrise

June is recognized as National Dairy month and remains an important industry to North Carolina, but it doesn't come without natural resource challenges. 

June is recognized as National Dairy month. Its beginnings reach back to 1937 when it was originally known as National Milk Month to promote drinking milk. It is now an annual tradition that recognizes the importance of the dairy industry to the world. The industry is also important to the state of North Carolina (NC), generating 3.5 million in wages and total economic impact of 12.25 billion according to the International Dairy Foods Association. 

According to the 2022 NC Agricultural Statistics Book published by the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there are around 40,000 dairy cows on 140 dairy farms in the state. The top four milk-producing counties are Randolph, Chatham, Wilkes, and Iredell. With many cows in the state, it is also important to note that these animals pose certain environmental challenges. Some of those challenges include degradation of local water sources, and loss of ecologically important areas such as wetlands, prairies, and forests. 

Farmers understand the need to be good stewards of the environment. Working with the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) of NC, over $2 million has been invested in conservation practices to address resource concerns in this important industry. Some of these practices include waste storage facilities, waste transfer, heavy use area protection, access control, fencing, streambed, and shoreline protection, along with many others. These practices often work hand in hand with each other.

An excellent example of this is heavy use area protection. This practice is used to accomplish reduction of soil erosion; provide a stable, noneroding surface for areas frequently used by animals, people, or vehicles; and protect or improve water quality. For heavy use areas with surface water quality concerns, planners include provisions to address runoff without causing erosion or water quality impairment. Field staff would use NRCS Conservation Practice Standards (CPS) Waste Transfer (Code 634), Vegetated Treatment Area (Code 635), Critical Area Planting (Code 342), Fence (Code 382), Prescribed Grazing (Code 528), Filter Strip (Code 393), Access Control (Code 472), or other similar CPSs as supporting practices, when needed. Just this one practice solicits many others to address natural resource concerns. 

Many of these practices fall under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This is the flagship conservation program that helps farmers, ranchers and forest landowners integrate conservation into working lands. How does it work? NC NRCS works one-on-one with producers to develop a conservation plan that outlines conservation practices and activities to help solve on-farm resource issues. Producers implement practices and activities in their conservation plan that can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil, and better wildlife habitat, all while improving their agricultural operations. EQIP helps producers make conservation work for them. Financial assistance for practices may be available through EQIP.  Some producers may also qualify for advance payment.

NC NRCS can also provide other assistance through voluntary programs to eligible landowners and agricultural producers to provide financial and technical assistance to help manage natural resources in a sustainable manner.  Through these programs, the agency approves contracts to implement conservation practices that addresses natural resource concerns or opportunities to help save energy, improve soil, water, plant, air, animal, and related resources on agricultural lands and non-industrial private forest land. To get started, please visit your local USDA Service Center.

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