Sustainability on a Dairy Farm

For Robert L. Foster, ensuring sustainability is all about the small steps. For decades, his operation has implemented several environmental projects that have created a culture of continuous improvement on his farm in Vermont, and have won it countless awards for milk quality, environmental efforts and quality compost.

On Foster Brothers Farm Inc., the Fosters practice cover cropping, strip cropping and no-till planting. In 1992, they founded Vermont Natural Ag Products Inc., a composting company for agricultural residuals. Robert is a resident expert and champion for renewable energy and sustainability for his cooperative, Agri-Mark. He coined the term “cow power,” which is now the name of a project between Vermont dairy farmers and Green Mountain Power. Oh, and his family built the state’s first anaerobic digester in 1982.

But most recently, Robert has become a devoted advocate for FARM Environmental Stewardship, a voluntary assessment that helps dairy producers identify potential efficiency gains, cost savings, and to track their progress. Robert inputs his farm’s data on things like milk production records, energy statements, fuel usage, and more to determine the best actions to augment his current environmental projects.

“To improve any endeavor, one needs to be able to measure progress,” said Robert. “I believe tools like the FARM ES module provide a simple way to measure progress over time. It provides validation and specific examples that give credence to how and why what we do as dairy farmers benefits society.”

Foster Brothers Farm Inc. is a fifth-generation dairy and crop farm located in the Champlain Valley of Vermont with a wet herd of over 500 cows. A truly family affair, Robert farms with his brother, cousin, daughter, two nephews and second cousin. They raise corn, hay and soybeans for feed, and rye for seeding cover crops. They also farm over 1,500 acres and manage 400 acres of woodland.

Robert is a recently retired cooperative director for Agri-Mark’s Board of Directors for 37 years. He graduated the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering and a master’s in agricultural economics. After serving in the U.S. Army, Robert returned to the farm. Besides serving as the co-op’s resident environmental expert, Robert was the director of Agri-Mark’s Young Cooperator program and of Agri-Mark’s Board of Directors.

Sustainability has been a pinnacle of the Foster family operation for over 20 years. Vermont Natural Ag Products Inc. purchases extra nutrients from farms and moves them into the broader marketplace through a line of compost products, from cow manure to potting mixes. And the Fosters have no intention of stopping there.

“My goal is to leave our businesses in a better place, and to encourage a culture of continuous improvement in the way we use resources to convert solar energy into resources for the betterment of the world,” Robert said. “I believe that agriculture has a great story about being a pioneer in sustainable stewardship.”

Bob Foster and Family

Highest Standards

National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program raises the bar for the entire dairy industry – creating a culture of continuous improvement. The FARM Program is comprised of dairy farmers, cooperatives and processors across the United States holding our members to rigorous guidelines for animal care, environmental and antibiotic stewardship that ensure the utmost quality on our nation’s dairy farms.Unknown Object

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Safe, Wholesome Milk

The safety and wholesomeness of milk starts at the farm. By following strict guidelines related to treating sick animals, all dairy consumers can feel confident that they are consuming the safest and most nutritious products for themselves and their families.Unknown Object

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June Dairy Month | Animal Care

Healthy, comfortable, well-cared for cows are of utmost importance to dairy farmers. The FARM Animal Care Program sets the highest standards for farmers and their entire management team, including veterinarians, nutritionists, and hoof trimmers, to ensure the best care for their cows every day.


Meet the Hoffmans – National BQA Dairy Award Winners

It’s easy to see what’s important to the Hoffmans: cows and family.

“Family is pretty much the reason we are here,” said daughter Tricia.

Located in upstate Pennsylvania, Hoffman Family Farm began in 1976 with just 40 cows and 400 acres, operated by Tricia’s parents, Dale and Carol Hoffman (pictured). When the family expanded, so did the farm. As the children grew up and returned to the farm, the facility grew even more. And when the grandchildren came, the farm expanded yet again. Today, the farm is home to 800 milking cows that are milked three times a day and produce two million pounds of milk per month.

Responsibilities on the Hoffman’s farm are divided between family members and 10 employees. While Dale and Carol own the farm, their children have their own roles. Keith is the herdsman and Brad is the “crop and heifer man.” Tricia is both the calf feeder and office manager. Josh handles the financial and technological elements of the operation. Even the grandsons are involved full time. Brad’s son Colton is a fellow herdsman and other son Coy is a feeder. What’s more, other family members can often be seen on the farm on their days off.

“It’s just our way of life,” says Tricia. “We work hard every day by using routine, consistency and efficiency, plus surrounding yourself with people who also think like that.”

Dairy farmers across the United States are not only responsible for providing the nation and world with a safe, wholesome milk supply, but also safe, nutritious beef. Almost 20 percent of the U.S. beef supply is sourced from dairy cows. This is a responsibility the Hoffman’s do not take lightly. They know they must maintain healthy cows to produce a quality product.

As participants of the National Dairy FARM Program and the Beef Quality Assurance program, the Hoffmans follow strict animal care guidelines to keep their animals in tip-top shape. Tricia says the family’s relationship with their veterinarian is of utmost importance. The vet stops by every two weeks for a herd health check, and has provided plenty of useful tips to improve overall cow health. Working closely with him, she says, has allowed the Hoffmans to customize a routine and plan for their operation.

Other animal care guidelines the Hoffmans follow include vaccination protocols and employee training to ensure a calm, consistent environment around the cows.

To help share their story of quality animal care, the Hoffmans invite visitors onto the farm and regularly share information about their lives through their social media channels.

Beef Quality Assurance is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented program that provides information to U.S. beef producers and beef consumers of how common sense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions. BQA guidelines are designed to make certain all beef consumers can take pride in what they purchase – and can trust and have confidence in the entire beef industry.

The FARM Program is proud to partner with BQA to provide educational resources to cattlemen and dairymen. 

WEBINAR PREVIEW: Emerging Issues

February 9, 2017 | 12:00 pm EST | Watch Here

The roster of standard operating procedures and recommended practices on dairy farms is evolving, shaped by new technology, new science, and practical experience. What is new is that this evolution is increasingly driven by both measurable animal welfare outcomes and by societal pressures about what is acceptable, as expressed by the clear and unequivocal expectations of our customers. The trust previously granted to farmers has been eroded, in part, by a continued barrage of coordinated campaigns promulgated by animal rights groups. Dr. Jamie Jonker will discuss a variety of issues from polled genetics to dam-calf separation to antibiotic-use which are emerging issues identified by our consumers, customers, advocacy groups, and regulators.


Jamie Jonker, PhD
Vice President, Sustainability & Scientific Affairs, NMP
Washington, D.C.

In his current role, Jamie has general responsibilities in sustainability and scientific affairs, including animal health and welfare, animal biotechnology, dairy farm bio-security, dairy farm air and water quality, dairy farm sustainability, and technical service issues.  He is also involved in coordinating relations with the Federation’s Animal Health & Wellbeing Committee and Environmental Issues Committee. Dr. Jonker is active representing the Federation on numerous national and international committees, including the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA), the International Dairy Federation (IDF), the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), Codex Alimentarius (Codex), the Sustainability Council of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD).  He serves on the U.S. Animal Health Association Board of Directors. He serves as Chair of the IDF Standing Committee on Farm Management, Past-Chair of the IDF Expert Group on Animal Feeding, and is additionally a member of the IDF Standing Committees on Animal Health and Welfare, Residues & Chemical Contaminants, Environment and Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance.  Dr. Jonker has also served on the IDF Delegations to the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs, the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Animal Feeding, and the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance. Jamie received his B.S. degree and M.S. degree from Cornell University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.  Prior to joining NMPF, his career included 6 years of experience in agricultural policy including service at the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture.


Why is the topic of emerging issues important to the dairy industry?
It is critical to understand what upcoming pressures that the dairy industry will need to prepare for in the future. Many of these emerging issues have the ability to have a significant impact on what we do to effectively manage our dairy farms.

How will these emerging issues make a difference within the greater dairy industry?
These emerging issues have the potential to make a significant difference in the day to day management of our dairy operations. In each of these issues, NMPF and FARM are proactively engaging in conversations to steer them in the appropriate directions to advocate for the dairy farmer.

Why should dairy producers care about the emerging issues?
The emerging issues that will be discussed will have a direct impact on dairy producers and have the possibility of affecting their ability to have a continued milk market in the future. These issues will challenge producers to think outside of the box and identify ways to potentially adapt and address some of these areas on their operation.

How will FARM help industry stakeholders proactively address emerging issues?
As FARM interacts with all industry stakeholders, strategic planning will take place so that the entire dairy community is not only aware but can be proactive to address issues in order to better position the dairy industry into the future with a secure, vibrant milk market.

This webinar is part the of the Merck Dairy C.A.R.E & FARM Animal Care Webinar series. You can view past webinars here.

WEBINAR PREVIEW: Preparing for the Unexpected

January 26, 2017 | 12:00 pm EST | Watch Here

Preparation is the key to avoiding an emergency and will save you valuable time, if and when an emergency happens on your farm. A preparedness plan should cover a variety of issues that could arise on the farm from a natural disaster to a herd health epidemic. In this webinar, Rick Jackson, U.S. dairy product manager, Merck Animal Health, explains how to develop an on-farm preparedness plan, as outlined in the Dairy C.A.R.E. Initiative, and walks through possible scenarios and how to put a plan in place to deal with them.


Rick Jackon
U.S. Dairy Product Manager
DeSoto, Kansas

Rick Jackson has made a lifelong commitment to the dairy industry. Growing up on a dairy in the Ottawa Valley in Canada, he began his career with a strong focus upon the care and well-being of animals.

After graduation from the University of Guelph, Rick entered the dairy cattle nutrition field, which again led to his focus on proper health, nutrition and care of dairy animals. His focus has led him into dairy management roles in New York, as well as Vermont.

Rick has been with Merck Animal Health for 10 years and is truly living his dream of helping someone every day. The C.A.R.E. initiative provides him with the ultimate opportunity to protect the dairy industry.


Why is the topic of emergency preparedness important to the dairy industry?
Proactive plus prepared equals protection for the dairy farmer, his/her animals and businesses. Dairy farmers spend their lives caring for their animals and producing nutritious products for consumer dinner tables. One unanticipated situation can quickly undo their great work and shake consumer confidence in the industry. Trying to figure out what to do in the middle of an emergency never puts anyone in the best position to respond. Anticipating those things that “could” happen and planning in advance to handle them takes the “heat out of the moment” and allows the industry to focus on what is most important to manage the situation at hand.

Where should a dairy farmer begin in order to develop a preparedness plan?
A risk ranking exercise is a great place to start when developing a preparedness plan in order to determine what is most likely to happen on your farm. There are some universal emergencies that could happen to anyone, like severe weather events, herd health issues or on-farm accidents. But, maybe you live close to an urban area and issues with neighbors are likely. Start by anticipating the unanticipated. Make a list of everything that could happen on your farm. Include possible issues like encountering community resistance to farm expansion. Assign a numerical probability of each event happening from one to 10 (one least likely, 10 very likely). Then assign a numerical rating to the impact it would have on your operation from one to 10 (one – very little impact, 10 – would shut your operation down). Now multiply those numbers: Likelihood x impact. You will quickly see the top three to five challenges you might face. Start with those and build your plan from there.

What are the key components of a preparedness plan?
A response team, an emergency contact list (required under FARM 3.0) and a plan to manage the flow of information to impacted audiences are three key components of any solid preparedness plan. Once you have identified the top three to five emergencies that could happen on your farm, put a team in place to help you manage them. Think through who you would ask to advise you (attorney? veterinarian?). Who will update your customers and employees? Who will inform stakeholders? Who will take care of the animals and secure your property? Who will speak to the media? Identifying your team and developing a plan to manage an emergency is very complicated in the heat of the moment, so take some time to thoughtfully prepare when things are calm.

What do you feel is the most important factor when managing an emergency?
A quick response to ensure that all people and animals are safe followed by open and transparent communication with impacted audiences. Safety is paramount – always. Then it is important to let your audience know what you are doing to manage and resolve the situation at hand.

Why is proper training important for dairy operations to implement in advance of an emergency?
Every farm with livestock should have a preparedness plan and a response team in place to handle emergency situations. It is vital that employees are trained on the plan and know who to call if they suspect an issue or need help.  They also need to know who will be communicating with them and what their roles are – or aren’t – to manage the situation.

How will FARM help industry stakeholders in the area of emergency preparedness? 
The FARM program and the National Milk Producers Federation are standing by to help in times of emergencies. Additionally, through partnerships with industry stakeholders, like Merck Animal Health, they are making tools and resources available to help dairy farmers put the policies and procedures in place to protect their animals and their businesses. The Merck Animal Health Dairy C.A.R.E. Initiative was developed to support the significant efforts of dairy producers to provide the best quality of care for their animals 24 x 7. It includes preparedness planning tools and templates, tips and guidance on how to prepare for the unexpected. The tools are available online at,, or you can speak to your Merck Animal Health sales representative.

This webinar is part the of the Merck Dairy C.A.R.E & FARM Animal Care Webinar series. You can view the FAQs and full schedule here.