MSU Extension and Michigan dairy farmers partner on developing more efficient water-use practices

Here’s a quick question: what’s the first thing a person thinks of when picturing a gallon of milk in the grocery store refrigerator case or envisioning a tall, cold glass of milk and a plate of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen table? Though a majority wouldn’t answer the question with “water,” perhaps they should. Not only is milk 87 percent water, but farmers need ready access to water to produce milk.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension researchers, with funding support from the Animal Agriculture Initiative (AAI), Michigan’s livestock research and Extension initiative at MSU, are partnering with dairy farmers across the state to calculate how much water is used on farms and how it’s used. The data will be used to come up with more efficient water-use practices.

The dairy industry is the largest segment of the agriculture industry, which is the second largest in the state– it contributes nearly $6 billion to the state’s economy every year – and it’s also one of the state’s biggest water users. An estimated 7 billion gallons of water is consumed every year by the state’s dairy industry for a variety of uses from drinking water – one dairy cow drinks an average of 50 gallons of water per day – to keeping milking equipment and milking areas clean and managing animal waste.

Roberta Osborne, MSU Extension dairy educator and one of the project’s lead researchers, says the goal is to establish ways to achieve greater sustainability of water resources while also improving the bottom line for dairy farmers.

“The goal is to establish standard evaluation methods so dairy producers can determine where and how much water is being used on the operation,” she explains. “This check-and-balance system will help farmers figure out if, where and how water is being wasted so they can eliminate those routines and replace them with other practices that will use water more efficiently.”

Ken Nobis, St. Johns dairy farmer and president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA), emphasizes that developing and adopting good water conservation practices benefits both the farm and the farmer. He believes that MMPA members will welcome the opportunity to evaluate water usage on their dairies and learn how to more effectively manage its use.

“We realize that the access Michigan dairy farmers have to an ample supply of fresh water gives us a distinct advantage in milk production, and we don’t take that for granted,” he said. “We are looking forward to working with the MSU researchers to implement water conservation measures that will allow us to more effectively use one of the state’s most important natural resources.”

Osborne adds that the dairy industry is important to Michigan and keeping it sustainable by ensuring the availability of an adequate water supply is a priority.

“This research is important because we need to continually be finding more effective and efficient ways to produce high quality milk while efficiently using our precious water resources,” she says.

The Michigan Animal Agriculture Initiative at MSU is vital to the health of the state’s economy. A survey commissioned by the AAI in 2007 revealed that nearly $22.9 million in annual economic activity can be linked back to the initiative. AAI-funded research adds $11.5 million annually to the state’s economy, and for every state tax dollar invested in the AAI, the initiative returns $3.40 in gross state product.

More than 200 research projects have been funded by the AAI since the initiative was established in 1996 as part of the grass-roots-driven Revitalization of Animal Agriculture in Michigan Initiative.

To learn more about the AAI, visit


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Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
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