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Pioneering regenerative dairy production, with Phyllis Van Amburgh

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At this point I’ve covered a wide array of practices and management styles that fall under the broad umbrella of regenerative agriculture. Some could be considered traditional while others are more modern and innovative and they span continents, climates, biomes and industries. Nonetheless I’ve noticed a pretty big gap that I’ve yet to cover in detail that I hope to begin to fill in today. 

Dairy farming has been under sharp criticism in recent times. Scrutiny over everything from the appropriateness of dairy in the diet to the methane emissions of cows and the controversial practices of early separation of calves from their mothers to maximize milk production have all contributed to a diminished reputation.

Though these critiques are very legitimate, what if there were solutions to all of them without the need to turn to non-dairy alternatives?

Today to explore these solutions is one of the leaders in regenerative dairy and a growing movement of dairy producers working to develop a new way of managing dairy cows and the pastures they coexist with. Phyllis Van Amburgh along with her husband Paul and their family are leaders in holistic land use, biodiverse cultivation, Organic dairy herd management, and more.

Together they are dairy farmers in upstate New York, and have been involved in key innovations in the dairy industry, mostly in western parts of the world, re-integrating dairy cows as a cornerstone for ecological health and for human communities to thrive. Phyllis and Paul have also helped develop the Grass-fed certification program with NOFA-NY and PCO. 

In this interview Phyllis starts by sharing her inspiring story of transitioning away from her previous career as she and Paul embraced a gradual move into full time farming.

We explore the intuition she had that much of the conventional wisdom and ways of doing things in the dairy industry were not really in the interest of either the cows nor the farmers and how that led them to rethink their own dairy operation. 

Phyllis outlines the key aspects they consider essential for managing a dairy herd regeneratively and the pioneering journey they’re on to make exclusively grass fed dairy cows viable through selective breeding and holistic managed grazing. 

We also explore Phyllis’ insights from her work helping large dairy operations in the USA and Europe to transition to regenerative management and the challenges and opportunities that the wider industry has to transform.

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