Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Arid conditions in Colorado and Texas, where we operate farms, make water conservation and efficiency critical in food production. As such, making efficient use of our precious water resources is a top sustainability priority for Aurora Organic Dairy.
The water we use on our farms goes primarily to pasture and crop irrigation, and we also use water for facility wash-ups and cow drinking water. All water used in our milking parlors is captured and diverted to our lagoons, which is eventually used a second time for irrigation.
With more than 85% of our companywide water use going to irrigation, we have prioritized better management and tracking of our irrigation water as our primary area of focus. In 2015 we began installing remote operation technology on our irrigation pivots, and – by the end of the 2017 – had completed the installation of this technology on 95% of our pivots. Coupled with weather stations and soil moisture probes, this technology allows us to better track and monitor water usage with our smart phones and tablets. We can implement customized water prescriptions for each field. Over time, we will be able to optimize irrigation water use by considering weather patterns and water retention characteristics specific to each field. Once we have this data, we will be better positioned to set longer term water efficiency goals for our farming operations.
Our processing plant recycled 77% of its water in 2017. We operate an onsite water pretreatment facility, which pretreats the water we capture and returns it to the local sanitation district – recycling the water for future use. The remaining 23% of water consumption at the plant is the result of evaporation from the cooling systems and steam loss from the high temperatures required during the milk pasteurization process.
Compared with our 2012 baseline, our plant water use per half gallon equivalent of milk declined by 37% in 2017, far exceeding our longer term goal of reducing normalized water use by 15% by 2017. We are pleased with this progress and expect we will continue to incrementally reduce our plant water use per half gallon equivalent of milk. A recent water audit, and employee education and awareness, has led to projects that will allow us to continue to reduce water use in our processing operations.