Each growing season, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its corporate partners gather to plant trees together at a current farm project. This past spring, the team celebrated the continued growth of the Sustainable Dairy PA partnership, a collaboration between the Alliance, the Hershey Company, and Land O’Lakes. About 15 Land O’Lakes and Hershey employees volunteered to plant 2.6 acres along a stream at a Land O’Lakes member farm. This section of the Swatara Creek runs through Lebanon County, part of the greater Susquehanna River Watershed.

The cows were curious that day, often following the group down the hillside as they planted!

The farm is owned by the Breckbill brothers who grew up farming the land with their parents and relatives. For them, it’s important to keep the farming tradition within their family. Their goals are to continue to improve the land to be able to pass it along to future generations in the utmost condition. In talking with the Breckbills, it’s evident they are committed to keeping their cows healthy and their business thriving long term. One example of this commitment is their no-till farming practices, which they have been implementing since 2010. No matter what time of year you visit the farm, it’s always green. They use other types of regenerative and soil health farming techniques such as cover cropping, strip cropping to keep erosion at a minimum, and rotational grazing.

A person standing in front of a barn

Kevin Breckbill poses in front of his barn, where soon there will be additional storage for ‘bed pack’. This will help to more efficiently keep the cows comfortable and dry, while keeping the farmstead tidy.

This year, they are working with the Natural Conservation Resource Service and the Alliance to add more protection to their feeding areas and cattle lanes, while also building covered structures to stack manure and bedding. They are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to improve their milk production and overall operation. One of these new technologies is a flexible membrane cover that will eventually encompass their liquid manure pit. Covers like these are not typically found on smaller farms, however provide a lot of benefits such as keeping clean rainwater out and capturing methane gas to be burned (or flared) off, producing less methane emissions from the storage overall.

The dairy industry as a whole is under a lot of pressure to reduce methane emissions to curb climate change, and technologies like the membrane cover is one way to get there. Unfortunately, the costly practices are usually not accessible to smaller farms. Nevertheless, the Sustainable Dairy PA partnership is optimistic that the private, nonprofit collaboration will be successful in bringing these innovative practices to their smaller farms over the next few years.

Two people laughing and smiling

Jenna Beckett (Alliance) and Matt Silvera (Hershey) share a moment of laughter together.

Corporate funding from Hershey has been committed to these farms in a pilot initiative to improve water quality, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the farms that are part of their supply chain. The funds have been used to cover conservation planning, engineering, design, and construction, which is often leveraged with other cost share programs in order to maximize on-the-ground impact. So far, the partnership has engaged with over 50 farms and has supported projects such as manure storages, heavy use area protection, waterways, increased no-till acres, and more acres of freshly planted riparian buffers!

Over the next few years, farm sustainability improvements are projected to increase, as the team commits greater resources toward assisting farms in installing water quality, soil health, and biodiversity practices. Both Hershey and Land O’Lakes are committed to reducing a significant amount of greenhouse gas through this initiative, so that customers know that the ingredients that go into food products are coming from sustainable sources. Learn more about our Corporate Sustainability work here, and stay tuned as this partnership grows!