In a move designed to support the farmers that supply milk to its dairy, Turkey Hill Dairy, a Conestoga, Pa.-based producer and distributor of ice cream and refrigerated drinks, said it joined forces with the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Reston, Va., and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to form the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership (THCWP).
Focusing on Lancaster County and surrounding central Pennsylvania counties within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the partnership is the first of its kind in bringing together the private and public sectors, with Turkey Hill Dairy asking the local dairy farmers to implement a conservation plan and enact best management practices for the health of Pennsylvania rivers and streams.
The partnership combats a lack of resources by providing technical and financial assistance to meet farmers’ conservation goals. Because the Lancaster County area is highly populated by small dairy operations that often feel monetary pressure to use all available land for production, the result can be overgrazing and/or cropland production too close to streams, contributing to nutrient and sediment pollution and reduced stream health, Turkey Hill Dairy said. Although these small dairy operations have the opportunity to significantly reduce pollutant loads to local waterways, Pennsylvania's dairy industry has been suffering from low milk prices for several years, leaving conservation practice improvements last on their list of operational concerns.
The THCWP received funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to provide farmers with the necessary resources to meet Turkey Hill’s commitments for sustainable milk production. It will provide 75% cost share assistance to farmers implementing conservation practices — a huge boost to those farms that need additional resources to meet their conservation goals, Turkey Hill Dairy noted. After farmers implement all practices prescribed in their conservation plans, they will receive a premium from Turkey Hill for their milk — a measure that is considered critical to the partnership’s success.
The new partnership represents a paradigm shift in attaining voluntary conservation action. The decision to assist, made by Turkey Hill Dairy’s former CEO and current chairman, John Cox, has resulted in 150 farmers beginning the process of achieving new conservation standards, the company said. This market-driven approach is applicable to many other agricultural sectors and has proven to be a technique that yields dramatic acceleration in the rate of conservation practice adoption.
“We don't accept it when others say that green projects, products or sustainability has to cost the company,” Cox said. “Instead, we seek out initiatives that will be both good for the environment and good for our company.”
Initiated by a Natural Resource Conservation Service grant, the partnership was designed to be replicated with hopes of demonstrating that leadership within the private sector can accelerate conservation action. Thus, Turkey Hill Dairy said it hopes that its initiative will motivate additional businesses to take a similar approach in improving their operations’ impact on local rivers and streams.