Written by The Business Journal Staff
Already struggling with rock-bottom milk prices, Valley dairies are bracing for more pain after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a set of proposed new climate change regulations calling for a 75-percent reduction in overall methane emissions from the state’s dairies by 2030.
CARB’s plan to drastically curtail Golden State greenhouse gas emissions was outlined in a draft document released by the powerful state agency last week.
“It’s not clear to anyone how we might meet” the goals set by the new CARB report, said Paul Sousa, director of environmental services and regulatory affairs for Western United Dairymen.
“The report points to a vague regulatory process to begin next year affecting dairies,” Sousa said. “In our conversations with CARB, they have indicated that they likely will start with requiring larger dairies to calculate and report their greenhouse gas emissions followed by additional regulations.”
CARB will be holding workshops this week in Sacramento and in Bakersfield next week as the agency seeks input from dairymen and dairy officials on its greenhouse gas reduction proposal. Dairymen in the Fresno and Visalia area will be able to participate in the workshops through video conferencing hookups at the Air Board’s Fresno and Modesto offices.
Among other things, CARB’s latest proposal would require dairies to significantly upgrade manure management practices and also reduce enteric fermentation emissions — known as cow burps — by 25 percent by 2030.
Air Board officials say California’s methane emissions can be cut considerably by converting from flush water lagoons to so-called “solid-scrape” or dry-manure management systems.
Sousa has met with CARB officials recently and voiced WUD’s concerns that the new methane reduction targets are “beyond ambitious.”
“The way to achieve the manure management emissions reduction is to prevent manure from being stored in a lagoon with water by converting from flush to scrape and dry handling — or to capture the methane emissions in a digester,” Sousa said. “It has been estimated that if the dairy industry was going to meet the 2030 goal [of 75 percent reduction] using only digesters, we would have to install digesters on the 600 largest dairies in the state.”
In the past 15 years, only about two-dozen digesters have been built in California —and only 13 of those are still in operation today.
Sousa likened the prospect of installing 600 new digesters in the next 15 years to “Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.”
But not everyone was skeptical of the new CARB emissions reduction plan. Environmental groups around the state hailed the proposal and expressed hope that it would lead to more so-called “pasture-based” dairy farming in the Central Valley.
Pasture-oriented dairies produce far less methane and are more common in Northern California, employing manure as fertilizer rather than stockpiling it in on-site lagoons, as is the common practice on most Central Valley dairies.
Tipton dairyman Frank Mendonsa says pasture-oriented dairying just won’t work in the Central Valley.
“It’s not a viable option,” said Mendonsa, who operates several large dairies south of Tulare. “With pasture-oriented dairying, you would have to reduce cow numbers so much it would be prohibitive for most dairies. There is just not enough pasture land in this part of the state to make it work.”
In their latest proposal, Air Board officials, while refraining from insisting Central Valley dairies adopt pasture-based practices, are encouraging dairymen to embrace various methane-reduction strategies, including capturing their herds’ emissions for on-site biogas energy generation — or processing and selling those emissions to utilities.
CARB’s draft proposal details how dairies can “make money reducing their methane emissions” by qualifying for grants or credits currently available from various state and federal agencies. The proposal also includes an economic analysis detailing costs and potential revenues related to reducing methane.
CARB hopes to gather public input on the methane-reduction plan over the coming months and could finalize and adopt the proposal later this fall. But Air Board officials stressed that dairymen around the Valley would not have to comply with the new regulations for at least several more years.
In a note to Western United members, Sousa pointed out that on a national basis over the last 70 years, dairies have reduced their “carbon hoofprint” by over 60 percent per gallon of milk produced.
“However, it will take a significant investment from the state to accelerate that pace and put infrastructure in place to even get part of the way to [CARB’s] overly aggressive goals,” added Sousa, who encouraged dairymen around the state to attend the CARB workshops and “voice your opinion on what this means to California dairies in light of all the other regulations and economics affecting California dairy families.”
George Lurie | Reporter can be reached at:
490-3464 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org