Dairy Industry Inaugural Summit Highlights Methane Emission Solutions

August 30, 2018

In warm-weather states, ice cream has long been a rite of summer. In California, our obsession with outdoor activities often leads us to prodigiously consume rich, sweet ice cream. It may surprise no one to learn that Long Beach is the top ice cream consuming city in the entire U.S.!

To meet the frozen desert cravings of Long Beach and many others, California has developed the nation’s largest and most profitable dairy industry – nearly 20% of the nation’s milk comes from California. The Golden State is home to more than 1.6 million milk cows living on nearly 1,400 dairy farms—the vast majority of which are owned and operated by local families who have been in the industry for generations.

California’s behemoth dairy industry produces almost as much milk as the next two dairy producing states combined—Wisconsin and New York.

Dairy is an extremely important pillar of the California economy. Dairy farms and the associated industries that convert milk into the products that so many of us love – ice cream, yogurt, cheese, butter and so much more – generate $65 billion in economic activity in California. Nearly 190,000 Californians are employed by the dairy industry, making it the single largest generator of jobs and wealth in the state’s vast agricultural economy. In comparison, California’s behemoth dairy industry produces almost as much milk as the next two dairy producing states combined—Wisconsin and New York.

The Dairy Industry Has a Catch…

The size and scope of the California dairy industry is not without its consequences. Dairies generate a variety of different waste products and use a lot of water. From a climate standpoint, dairies are a significant contributor to the state’s inventory of fugitive methane emissions. Methane—the primary component of the natural gas that so many of us use to cook our food, heat our water and warm our homes—is a powerful greenhouse gas, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to trap and radiate heat. Of the state’s 2016 inventory of greenhouse gases (GHG), methane was responsible for about 9% of the total inventory. Methane from dairy manure and from enteric activities (belches and flatulence) make up slightly less than half of the total fugitive methane inventory, or about 4% of the state’s total GHG emissions.

Methane from dairy manure makes up slightly less than half of the total fugitive methane inventory (around 4.5% of California’s total GHG inventory).

While many policymakers’ instinct might be to implement regulations and fines to force the industry to reduce its carbon footprint, it’s vital to both California’s economy and to the state’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint to help the dairy industry tackle their GHG emissions in an economically feasible way. The California dairy industry has already made considerable investments in the development of strategies, technologies, and programs that will improve operational efficiency, boost sustainability, and create new economic opportunities. If the state’s environmental policies make it too expensive for dairy farmers to continue to operate here, the production will likely migrate to states that don’t share California’s commitment to climate protection. The potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in economic output would be devastating for California, particularly in those areas of the state that are already struggling economically.

The Key is Education and Collaboration

It is thus vital that policymakers and the dairy industry work together to help the families that own California’s dairies become more sustainable. This is precisely what the dairy industry is trying to do when it holds the first ever California Dairy Sustainability Summit on November 27 and 28, 2018, at the Sacramento Convention Center. The two-day summit—hosted by Dairy Cares, the California Milk Advisory Board, the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program, the California Dairy Research Foundation, and the Dairy Council of California—will showcase the world-leading programs, policies and practices that California dairy owners, regulators and other stakeholders have developed to elevate sustainable farming practices, increase efficiency, and create new sources of income for family-owned California dairy farms.

California’s dairy industry can become more sustainable and profitable with the production of biogas from dairy manure, which can generate revenue equal to as much as $10 per diesel equivalent gallon!

Key to the success of this event will be the exhibit hall. The hosts of the Dairy Sustainability Summit want to provide California dairy farmers with a one-stop-shop for all the resources that they might need in order to enhance the performance of their operations, improve efficiency, decrease costs, and reduce their environmental footprint. Organizers plan to gather the best vendors of energy efficiency, water conservation, renewable electricity generation and methane reduction technologies and strategies, as well as dozens of other experts that will speak to the many ways dairy farmers can enhance their bottom line by reducing their impact on the environment.

This is where enhancing dairy sustainability intersects with clean transportation. One of the best, easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce methane emissions from dairies is to divert manure to lagoon anaerobic digesters, clean the biogas that is produced to pipeline quality, and inject it into the grid where it can be used as a transportation fuel. When dairy biogas is used in vehicles, particularly as a substitute for diesel in heavy duty trucks and buses, it is the lowest carbon fuel available. Coupled with the near zero emission natural gas engines currently commercially available, trucks fueled by dairy biogas are the cleanest in the world. This is why California is investing tens of millions of dollars into the development of dairy digester projects – it is the most effective strategy to get near term reductions in short lived climate pollutants, like methane and diesel soot (black carbon).  It is also a way to dramatically bolster the income of dairy farmers, which helps ensure that they can afford to be climate friendly.

The California Dairy Sustainability Summit will be a critical stage for the clean transportation industry to help California dairy farmers meet the challenge of finding the balance between economic and environmental sustainability.

If the manure from every cow in California were managed in such a way that fugitive methane was captured, cleaned and made available for heavy-duty vehicle fuel, it would deliver more than 150 million diesel equivalent gallons of the world’s lowest carbon fuel. Dairy biogas can generate revenue equal to as much as $10 per diesel equivalent gallon! Adding to the excitement are the new generations of electric trucks and buses, which will be able to harness electricity from generators fueled by dairy biogas. This is why the alternative fuel and electric vehicle industries are so excited about recent efforts by the state to promote the development of the dairy digester industry, and why advocates of clean transportation technologies everywhere should register to attend the California Dairy Sustainability Summit this November, and help educate dairy farmers about this astonishing and bountiful opportunity.

Dairy sustainability is thus tied to efforts to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, reduce emissions of criteria pollutants and toxic air contaminants, and decrease the consumption of fossil fuels in California.  The Summit will be a critical stage for the clean transportation industry to help California dairy farmers meet the challenge of finding the balance between economic and environmental sustainability.

To join the event email list and take advantage of early bird registration rates, visit www.cadairysummit.com. To learn about sponsorship and booth space opportunities, please contact Tony Quist at tony@gladstein.org or 310-573-8564.

Event Partners include the California Cattlemen’s Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Dairy Campaign, California Dairies, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America – Western Area, Dairy Institute of California, Hilmar Cheese Company, Land O’ Lakes, Milk Producers Council, Producer’s Dairy, Sustainable Conservation, Western States Dairy Producers Association, and Western United Dairymen.