Have you ever stopped to think about where your food comes from? The answer is simple: agriculture. This is why National Ag Day is such an important event. For 50 years, National Ag Day has celebrated the vital role that dairy farming and agriculture plays in our daily lives.
This year, March 21 marks the 50th anniversary of National Ag Day and its theme of “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow.” That’s a theme dairy farmers honor year-round and have done so for decades.
Dairy farmers have long worked on reducing the carbon footprint of a glass of milk and the impact of milk production has on the environment. In fact, the carbon footprint of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk 19% from 2007, requiring 30% less water and 21% less land.
Dairy farmers are innovators, committed to leaving a healthy world for future generations. An important tool in improving cow comfort, milk quality and sustainability is technology.
Robotic Milking Efficiencies
“It’s amazing how much more efficient we can get all the time,” says dairy farmer Eric Ooms. His family farm, A. Ooms & Sons Dairy Farm in Valatie, New York, with 500 milking cows, was among the first in upstate New York’s Capital Region to install state-of-the-art robotic milking machines. This technology allows dairy cows to be milked at their leisure.
“Our milking parlor was 25-years-old and at the point that we’d have to invest in something,” says Ooms. In 2015, they switched over to robotic milkers. “For us, robotic milkers were a no-brainer and offered advances in efficiencies in cow comfort.”
Robotic milkers reduce the energy cows spend walking to the parlor. The robotics also allow dairy farmers to focus on other aspects of running a farm. “At the time, I was turning 40, and it changed my whole life,” says Ooms. “I used to milk about 36 intense hours a week. Now I’m spending that time with cows that need attention. The best thing we can do is to take excellent care of the cows we have.”
Dairy Farming Heritage
Eric Ooms’ passion for dairy farming and caring for cows is in his blood. “I cannot imagine doing anything ese,” says Ooms. Eric is part of a farming heritage that dates to the 15th century.
The “A.” in A. Ooms & Sons Dairy Farm first honored Eric’s grandfather, Arend, and then eventually it shifted to represent Eric’s father, Adrian, who lived through World War II. “Dad was 12-years-old on V-E Day [Victory in Europe Day],” explains Eric. During World War II, “They were about 2 miles from the city of Rotterdam and he [Adrian] remembers grown men begging for a single potato, as conditions were so dire. Being a farm, they could make cheese and hide it,” says Ooms. Those lessons stayed with Adrian and have been passed down to Eric and his siblings. “This upbringing stays with our business to this day. We watch costs and limit waste. We respect the land.”
Originally from Netherlands, the Ooms’ came to America in the 1950s. Eric says the same reason that brought his grandfather to “land of opportunity” remains: the land. “Dad continues to search for land to purchase to this day and my brothers and I share that philosophy as well,” says Ooms. To this day, the vast majority of the 2,000 acres the Ooms’ own is used to grow crops for high quality feed for the herd.
Now in his 90’s, Adrian Ooms is still very engaged on the farm. And Eric has taken on additional duties in addition to caring for cows. He is pursuing his interest in public policy as a board member of the New York Farm Bureau.
Eric’s children, ages 8, 10, 13 and 15, are paving their own way. “My favorite part of the week is when my kids come to work on the farm. It’s a blast for me to see them grow and enjoy some of the exact things that I did,” says Eric Ooms.
Caring for their land and the cows, the Ooms’ take a lot of pride in producing a quality dairy product in sustainable ways. The milestone of celebrating 50 years of National Ag Day, says Eric Ooms, is just a reminder for people to remember and appreciate where their food comes from.