Nearly 40 Pennsylvania dairy producers working through the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership have installed new equipment and facilities that reduce their pollution. (Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Ice cream has a reputation of being a guilty pleasure, but if you get your scoops from Turkey Hill Dairy, then it might be more pleasure than guilt.

That’s because the national ice cream brand has helped nearly 40 of its Pennsylvania dairy suppliers significantly reduce pollution through the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership.

As a joint effort between Turkey Hill, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, the partnership fundraises and acquires grants, using them to install best management practices (BMPs) on the farms of Turkey Hill producers, reducing the amount of nutrients and sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Like other agricultural businesses, dairy farms face several environmental challenges. Animal waste, over-fertilizing and poor irrigation practices can cause excess nitrogen to runoff into local waterways, causing algae downstream to bloom, die off and decompose, leading to dead zones in the Bay that impact plant and animal life. Loosened soil from plowing, cows wandering into waterways and the removal of natural vegetation all lead to the erosion of stream banks, which results in additional sediment pollution flowing downstream.

But all of this can be reduced through BMP implementation, which has been completed at breakneck speed by the partnership.

Since 2017, the partnership has worked with 39 farms to plant 645 trees that filter runoff, create or update 29 conservation, nutrient and manure plans, and install 66 agricultural BMPs such as cover crops, stream fencing and improved manure storage facilities. For the dairy producers choosing to make these improvements, the partnership funds 75% of the costs associated with installing conservation and nutrient management plans, and 100% of the costs to develop BMPs. Two million has been raised through the partnership with a total of $3 million leveraged on farm improvements.

According to Mauricio Rosales, agriculture project manager at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Turkey Hill producers have shown great interest in joining the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership. A recent grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is managed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, was expected to last two years but was exhausted in just four months due to high interest.

Turkey Hill’s leadership, combined with the Alliance’s expertise in agriculture management, can make these partnerships more enticing for dairy farmers, who know that they are in good hands. Rosales also said that there is a cultural shift where new generation farmers are more willing to accept grants and make conservation a priority.

Another culture shift at play is consumer values. Research shows that the importance and perception of sustainability among consumers is increasing. Thirty-seven percent of consumers are seeking out and willing to pay up to 5% more for environmentally friendly products and are actively changing their shopping behavior to do so. This trend supports the decision for brands like Turkey Hill to work with more environmentally-friendly farmers.

In addition to its Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership, Turkey Hill Dairy has incorporated sustainability into their packaging, shipping, waste management and dairy facility. The company’s dairy relies on 100% sustainability energy, powered by a combination of hydroelectric energy from a nearby dam and wind turbines.

To learn more about how farmers are helping the Bay watershed, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s agriculture page and follow the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to learn more about their work with both corporate and independent farmers.

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James Knipe

I knew taste and texture weren't the only reasons I like Turkey Hill!

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