Celebrating the Cow & Dairy Farmer: A Commitment to Quality from U.S. to New Zealand

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Blog

A young Marianne with a cowI have never met a cow I didn’t like (especially if they’re black and white), but there were times when not all were in favor during my years of showing dairy. Summer days filled with training calves to lead, grooming, feeding and cleaning stalls provided lots of sweat, a few scars and tons of appreciation for the responsibility required to take care of our cow. While the impact of cow burps on the environment, animal care issues and milk quality concerns have made headlines over the years, the dairy farmer’s passion and work ethic usually aren’t in the limelight.

With the aid of new technology and data-driven practices, though, today’s dairy farmers, regardless of location, continue to make the care and sustainability of their herds top priority.

It is this commitment to quality we celebrate!

The Sustainability Evolution

The memories of our cows “chewing their cud” meant they were happy, satisfied and healthy. In fact, it’s vital to the proper functioning of their stomach or rumen. You want to see cows chewing. So, in 2008, when I discovered that the all too familiar cow “burps” (due to the fermentation process while chewing) released methane, it was quite a revelation.

Even though it may have been my personal revelation, this fact was not new to the dairy industry. Over the past 16 years, the dairy industry has been at the forefront of reducing its “hoofprint.” In fact, dairy was the first U.S. food agricultural sector to evaluate its environment impact — inputs and outputs from farm to table — through the creation of a Lifecycle Assessment (LCA).

The original LCA, based on fluid milk, showed that U.S. dairy contributed 2% to the total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 5.1% of U.S. water use and 3.7% of U.S. farmland use.1 Through continuous research and investment in sustainable farming practices, the environmental impact continues to diminish. Today, data reflects an average of 30% less water and 21% less land usage by dairy farmers, which contributes to a 19% smaller carbon footprint,2 without reducing milk production. Even though dairy, and particularly animal agriculture, are often cited as major contributors to GHG emissions, perception is not reality.

The KIWI Commitment: Adrian Ball, Dairy Farmer

Marianne & Adrian Ball

Marianne & Adrian Ball

The commitment to dairy sustainability extends beyond our borders. A true highlight of my most recent visit to New Zealand was visiting the farms of one of the country’s leading dairymen, located on the North Island, southeast of Auckland and near the famous Hobbiton. Adrian Ball and his wife Pauline are truly a “dream team” for sustainability.3

While green pastures and temperate climate contribute to New Zealand’s identity of having more animals than people, they also pose a challenge in meeting the country’s sustainability goals. However, Adrian sees the country’s environmental goals as opportunities not deterrents — an attitude we can appreciate.

Despite its small population of 5 million, New Zealand is the eighth largest milk producing country, suppling milk to over 130 countries. With 95% of New Zealand’s milk production being exported,4 dairy farmers have a significant responsibility to implement and document their sustainable dairy practices to ensure their customers, including global food and beverage companies, are successful.

When we see sustainability annual reports of global brands highlighting their accomplishments, farmers like Adrian contribute to that success! Adrian and others understand the importance of collecting and sharing data of “on farm sustainable practices” to help companies and governments reach sustainability goals and ultimately, improve the environment.

New Zealand dairy farm riverbank restorationThe visual signs of Adrian’s commitment to sustainability are evident throughout the farm: tree groves in pastures, reclaimed riverbanks with clear water streams, solar powered barns and lush green pastures; all faucets that are data driven and measured for their environmental impact along with the dairy and beef operations.

Adrian’s commitment of “leaving the environment a better place” has been recognized with numerous sustainability awards over the years. Currently, he serves on the Fonterra Sustainability Advisory Board.

It’s Still About the Cows

The foundation for a sustainable dairy herd is quality animal care — one constant element regardless of where the cows are raised. Animal welfare is priority number one! Over the years, Adrian, like dairy farmers in the U.S. rely on new technologies and nutritional research to improve the health of the animal. Genomic selection is one such technology that can help produce healthier cows.5 With this advancement in cow breeding, dairy farmers worldwide can select traits that will improve the health of a cow, making her less prone to medical conditions like mastitis or other calving challenges that would require medications like antibiotics.

The Bottom Line

New Zealand dairy farmIt’s not easy to be a dairy farmer in the U.S. or New Zealand. Regardless of location, there are common bonds. From my late father, to my female colleague in Wisconsin running the family dairy, to Adrian Ball down under — the common themes of passion and commitment to quality care for the cows are evident.

So raise your glass (or spoon) and let’s celebrate our dairy farmers (and their cows) near and far for the commitment and perseverance that keeps “everything dairy” on our table.



1-2. Environmental Impact of Dairy Farming, U.S. Dairy.

3. “Adrian and Pauline Ball of Dennley Farms from Waikato Announced as New National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing,” New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, June 6, 2019.

4. “The New Zealand Dairy Industry: Dairy is a Major Contributor to New Zealand Communities,” Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ).

5. “Genomic Selection in United States Dairy Cattle,” by George R. Wiggans and José A. Carrillo, Frontiers Media S.A., September 9, 2022.