The California dairy industry has racked up another ”first.” While the state’s dairy cows lead the country in production, a group of California dairy families is the first ever to be certified for its best practices in environmental protection. The first dairies were honored today for their achievements.

”This is a proud moment for the California dairy industry,” said Hilmar dairyman and chairman of the California Dairy Quality Assurance (CDQA) program Chuck Ahlem. ”This voluntary program has provided us with the opportunity to bring our care for the environment to a higher level. With it, consumers can feel confident that we are continuing our goal to produce wholesome and nutritious dairy products in concert with a healthy environment.”

The certifications come under CDQA’s Environmental Stewardship program, which brings together federal, state and local agencies in partnership with dairy industry organizations to provide dairy farmers with a concise road map of standard procedures, systems and equipment assuring their farm is operating at the highest level for environmental safety.

”Our industry has always been proactive in its environmental protection program,” added Ahlem, ”and we now have a formal system to recognize these efforts and generate further assurances.” Ahlem noted that the program assists dairy farmers in making meaningful decisions about dairy management and interpreting the complex rules and regulations that govern their operations.

Alexis Strauss, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water division in San Francisco, said the program’s success to certify dairy producers is an unprecedented accomplishment for the nation’s dairy industry.

”These dairies are investing time and effort to show that environmental stewardship and dairy production can indeed go hand in hand,” Strauss said. ”California’s environment will continue to benefit as we get more and more dairies to complete this compliance program.”

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Dairy producers on hand to receive their certificates during a Capitol ceremony today were Alderson Dairy, Gerber; Bancrest Dairy Inc., Ferndale; Bartelink Dairy, Escalon; Bucher Dairy, Healdsburg; Charles Ahlem Ranch, Hilmar; and Walter Stornetta Ranch, Point Arena. They represented the first wave of dairies to gain certification status.

The CDQA Environmental Stewardship program has provided voluntary training to about 1,400 dairy farmers and their employees. Certified dairies attend six hours of course work developed by UC Davis, complete a comprehensive farm management plan, and pass a rigorous on-farm evaluation by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

The program began its initial evaluations in late summer. Following the non-regulatory evaluations by CDFA, these dairies voluntarily agreed to have follow-up inspections performed by the Regional Water Quality Board staff. Currently, on-farm evaluations are being funded by a substantial grant from the U.S. EPA. that will cover certification of up to 1,000 dairy facilities.

The CDQA Program was formed in 1997 to assist the state’s dairy industry, in cooperation with state and federal agencies and the University of California to improve best practices that affect all aspects of dairy operations. The program includes three components: Environmental Stewardship; Food Safety; and Animal Health and Welfare.

The CDQA is supported by dairy industry leadership including the Alliance of Western Milk Producers, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Manufacturing Milk Advisory Board, California Milk Advisory Board, Milk Producers Council, and Western United Dairymen. Government agencies and academic organizations partnering with the environmental certification program include the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Environmental Protection Agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Resources Agency, the Department of Fish and Game, Region 9 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, University of California at Davis, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency.