Newtrient – a Powerful Tool and Resource for Dairy Farmers in Demonstrating Dairy’s Positive Environmental Impact

Posted 04/05/2019 by Marilyn Hershey

More than ever, people are asking questions about their food. Not just about where their food comes from, but how it is produced, who is taking care of the animals, when was it produced in comparison to when it hits the shelf and what is being done at the farm level to help the environment. 

Consumers are inquisitive, and rightly so, they are keenly aware of how we answer these questions. The good news is, farmers, and dairy in particular, have an environmentally friendly story to tell.  Newtrient is part of that answer; a tool for farmers to draw from when they tell the story of sustainability, resources that add value to our farms and manure practices that equip us to reduce our carbon footprint. 

April is the month for Earth Day (April 22nd) so I thought it was the perfect time to interview Newtrient’s Jamie Vander Molen to help us better understand the increasing role that Newtrient plays in dairy farm sustainability. 

Questions:

1. Tell me about Newtrient? How is it funded? How long has it been running? 
Over five years ago, a small handful of leading dairy cooperatives and organizations came together around a shared idea: manure has the potential to be a valuable product, and not a problem. 

Today’s dairy farmers are presented with significant animal waste challenges, what to do with it, where to put it and how to manage its costs, regulatory, societal pressures and environmental impacts. Then three years ago, leading cooperatives and organizations officially rallied around finding solutions through Newtrient with a shared mission: reduce the environmental footprint of dairy and make it economically viable to do so. 

Newtrient began to grow and is now a business collective of the national checkoff (DMI), the dairy farmer policy organization (NMPF) and the leading U.S. dairy cooperatives representing more than half of the country’s milk supply. Newtrient’s funding members include: Agri-Mark, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Prairie Farms, Foremost, Land O’Lakes Inc., Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA), United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA), St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, Select Milk Producers Inc., Southeast Milk, Tillamook, Maryland & Virginia, as well as Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and National Milk Producers Association (NMPF). 

Newtrient Partners

2. What is your commitment to dairy farmers?
Newtrient is committed to advancing innovative technologies, products and markets to capture the economic value from the nutrients, fiber, energy and environmental benefits of well-managed manure. We’re a company created by farmers ---and all benefits go directly back to the dairy farmer whether that be through increased access to technologies, manure-based product innovation or increased technology incentives and funding.

3. How has Newtrient evolved over the years?
The original vision was to accelerate the spread of digesters. At that time, digesters were the primary environmental and economic effort being pursued by the industry. As we explored the options and feasibility of digesters, the value for energy dropped and a clear economic gap emerged. 

What we’ve learned, however, is that it’s not just digesters. After evaluating nearly 300 manure management technology options for dairy farmers, we had a clear understanding of the economic gap for technology adoption. When added to the commonly understood problem of the price for milk barely covering its cost of production (and sometimes not even that) a bigger economic challenge became clear as the industry felt increasing social and regulatory pressures to put more time, effort and resources into manure management (GHG reduction, reduced nutrient loss to the environment). 

So, how is the dairy industry going to close the economic gap between what consumers, regulators and many of our neighbors want us to do (address issues like GHGs, nutrient loss to surface and groundwater, energy production from manure, increased soil health, increased use of recycled fertilizers, etc.) and what dairy farmers can afford to do?

Newtrient Cost Benefits

The answer to this challenge lies in changing policy to encourage farmers to get paid for voluntarily providing environmental benefits beyond what the law requires.  This is generally referred to as a market-based solution or ecosystem services marketplace.

Simply put, farms are already doing so much to benefit the environment and society, but there’s no market to sell sustainable actions. Newtrient is working at national and state levels to develop market-driven solutions in response to today’s sustainability challenges (water quality, GHG reduction) and provide incentives to farms who would voluntarily adopt new technologies and practices. Watch this short video to see how market-based solutions benefit farmers: Newtrient Video - How Dairy Benefits from Market-Driven Solutions

Newtrient Video

4. How do you anticipate Newtrient to change?
We continue to put the farmer first and believe farms hold enormous potential to provide sustainable solutions. To get there, however, we need to see a shift within the food, agriculture and sustainability conversation to ensure sustainability actions are also economical. 

There is a lot of work to be done to change the dialogue between farmers and regulators. Environmental discussions are happening, and decisions are being made without farmers at the table ---and we’d like to change that. Moving forward, we will build understanding and stronger relationships between farmers and regulators, which up until now, has been somewhat nonexistent.

5. What do you see as the greatest opportunity?
Positioning dairy farms as an environmental solution, not just a little bit less of an environmental problem. 

Milk is great, an almost magical product, but what we do as farmers can go far beyond this product. We need to demonstrate how dairy farms can benefit our communities and society so when a consumer picks up a jug of milk they feel they’re helping the environment by choosing dairy.

Newtrient is working on projects to demonstrate how dairy is a solution to today’s biggest environmental challenges, starting with greenhouse gas emissions and water quality. Once we can prove the economics of sustainability, we will be better positioned to expedite a path to policy improvements and increased incentives for farms to spur adoption.

6. What has been the greatest reward?
Being part of a company that came out of an industry need and is filling an industry gap. There has long been a need for an entity to bring together farmers, NGOs, regulators, innovators and investors in the same room, without finger pointing, but with a focus on solving true sustainability issues with respect to economics, environment and social good. 

7. Many times, relationships play a vital part of our checkoff programs.  Do you feel like relationships are an important component of Newtrient? If so, how?
Newtrient is unique in that we’re establishing unprecedented relationships for dairy. While we work with the checkoff to increase awareness of technology and practices to reduce environmental challenges and communicate to consumers the role dairy farmers play as an environmental solution, we also work with dairy cooperatives and NMPF to conduct work at the policy level. Because of that, we have developed a skill set that has clearly become valuable to states and municipalities, federal policy-makers, investors, NGOs and dairy farmers.

Newtrient can reach across to NGOs, who benefit from knowing more about our efforts to turn dairy’s challenges into societal opportunities. We have also found ourselves welcome in the USDA, but also with EPA, where we’ve had considerable influence. You can see the benefits of this relationship happening today through a recent EPA announcement, encouraging market-based solutions to water quality: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-new-water-quality-trading-policy-memorandum 

8. Any other thoughts of the commitment, vision and direction of Newtrient?
We need to position dairy farms as an environmental solution, not just a little bit less of an     environmental problem. We have a path to get us there. We remain focused on proving the economics of sustainability and expediting policy improvements and increased incentives for farms. When we get there, we all benefit from an improved environment at a lesser cost to all. 

This is an industry-wide effort and we encourage you to stay connected. Sign up for updates at our website: https://www.newtrient.com/  

More information here: http://www.newtrient.com 
To contact Newtrient: info@newtrient.com or 847-627-3855

Thank you, Jamie for helping us better understand the value and input of Newtrient. Working together, dairy farmers and organizations like Newtrient are leading the way with building valuable relationships and implementing new technologies to move our farms and our planet forward.

If you want to talk about Newtrient, I encourage you to reach out to me through talktomarilyn@dairy.org or leave a comment below.

If you’d like to join the Facebook conversation about the national dairy checkoff, ask to join the Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group.

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