Crop Ag and Animal Ag Working Together

For years now there has been an argument against Animal Agriculture claiming that mankind could eat more efficiently if we took the animals out of the equation and we all ate plant based diets. While this may be a valid concept, it lacks a serious amount of practicality. Animal Agriculture has a very important and efficient role in feeding the world.

Crop Agriculture and Animal Agriculture have a very intricate relationship. An example in California is almonds and dairies. Almonds need crop nutrients and a great source is compost. Dairies create manure, which can be turned into valuable, high quality compost for the surrounding almond orchards. Compost from cow manure is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and organic matter, which are all needed in almonds.

manure separator

A manure separator which removes the solid manure out of the recycled flush water that cleans the dairy barns. The liquid portion is used to irrigate and fertilize crops, and the solid is exported off site for composting.

Manure fertilizer

A pile of separated manure solids headed to the farm to provide crop nutrients.

The interesting part is that almond orchards produce almond hulls and almond shell along with the nuts. Almond hulls are similar to dried peaches. They are a great feed source for cattle, and California dairies feed a lot of almond hulls to their cattle. Without almond hulls dairies would need to produce a lot more silage to feed our cows, which would take up land and use more water. Almond shell makes a great source of bedding for cattle, thereby reducing the need for yet more resources on the dairy farm.

Almond split

Almond split just beginning to happen. Harvest will be in 3 to 4 weeks.

Almond hulls

Almond hulls

Total Mixed Ration feed

TMR (total mixed ration) cattle feed which is what allows supplemental feed such as almond hulls. Cows would never eat almond hulls straight, so they have to be mixed in with the (corn) silage and hay.

Dairy cattle feeding on TMR

Dairy cattle feeding on TMR (see photo left)

This relationship shows why diversity within Ag is so important. If dairies did not have a home for their manure, then they could have waste management problems. If almond growers did not have a home for their hulls and shell they would also have waste problems because there are no other significant uses for the hulls and shells. A very sustainable solution to both industries’ problems can be formed when they work together. This relationship generates revenue for both industries and it also saves valuable resources and land to be used for other crops.

Next time you’re raising a glass of milk and snacking on a handful of almonds, consider this sustainable relationship between these farmers that made it happen.