April 11, 2022 at 3:48 p.m.
Dairy will be part of renewable energy solution
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, all livestock in the United States contribute 4% of all greenhouse gasses produced.
Methane is not only produced by cows but is also naturally destroyed by a process called hydroxide oxidation.
“Roughly the same amount of greenhouse gasses that are being produced by cattle are also being naturally destroyed every year,” Mitloehner said. “If we can reduce methane, then we can reduce warming.”
Mitloehner, a professor and air quality extension specialist with the Department of Animal Science at the University of California-Davis, spoke at the Professional Dairy Producers annual business conference March 16 in Wisconsin Dells. He was joined by Bruce Vincent, a third-generation logger; Dr. Richard Kyte, the director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership; and Tom Thibodeau, the director of the Viterbo University Master of Arts in Servant Leadership program.
Greenhouse gases from different industries linger in the atmosphere differently. Gasses from power plants stay in the atmosphere for 1,000 years, whereas methane has a lifespan of only 10 years, according to Mitloehner. If power plants were to reduce their emissions by shutting down, there would be a large amount of carbon in the air due to its long lifespan. If farms were to reduce their methane emissions by covering lagoons, carbon dioxide would also reduce and have a cooling effect on the atmosphere.
“If we manage enough methane reduction, we have a cooling effect which offset other greenhouse gasses, leading us to a point where our industry can reach climate neutrality,” Mitloehner said.
Mitloehner has calculated that both the beef and the dairy sector can reach climate neutrality approximately by the year 2040 if both industries reduce their greenhouse gasses by about 0.05% per year.
California law states that methane must be reduced by 40% by 2030. The state is achieving that reduction by incentivizing farmers to cover their lagoons. These covered lagoons, known as digesters, trap the biogas underneath. By trapping the biogas, 60% of which is methane, that biogas is converted into a vehicle fuel called renewable natural gas.
“Several dozen dairies have done that with incredible success associated with it,” Mitloehner said. “Our dairy industry’s methane footprint has been reduced by 25% over the last few years simply with the use of these covered lagoons and some additional manure management practices. There is really a future.”
This process has been incentivized with low carbon fuel stamp credits, which amounts to half of what a farmer will make from the sale of milk.
“We feel if we start aggressively reducing methane we become part of the climate solution,” Mitloehner said. “If you learn to manage it, you can turn that liability into an asset and even make money with it.”
Although the dairy industry only contributes 2% of greenhouse gasses, Mitloehner said it is important to acknowledge to the public that the dairy industry is part of the problem but can also be part of the solution.
As a logger, Vincent was in the same position 25 years ago as the dairy industry is now, with the public outraged with loggers cutting trees down. Vincent said the logging industry was doing good things by managing forests, but they were not doing a good job of communicating their truths to the public.
“This is really important for all of us in rural commodity industries to understand because the public’s truth and public policy is not defined by our reality,” Vincent said. “It’s defined by the public’s perception of our reality.”
Vincent said when the logging industry engaged the public on forestry, they were actually discussing their ability to operate at all.
“We need to put ourselves in the public’s shoes for a minute because they’re the ones we need to have this dialogue with,” Vincent said. “They’re the ones that give us the social license to operate.”
Engaging in, owning and showcasing environmental initiatives are what Vincent suggested doing to work with the public’s requests. He also stressed the importance of working locally to gain trust and participate in solutions.
“Focus on leading locally,” Vincent said. “Don’t lose your county and then expect Madison to act for you or Washington, D.C. The most important democratic policy discussion is … your county commission office.”
In order to lead appropriately, Kyte spoke on cultivating relationships to build trust. He said psychologists call this social capital.
There are two forms of social capital. The first is bridging capital where common expertise is brought together from people who do not necessarily know each other but want to work together toward shared answers.
Bridging capital depends on bonding capital, which is collaboration.
“It turns out that the key to feeling better about the world is to be active in our community and form really good relationships with friends,” Kyte said. “And that turns out to be the mortar that really holds the bricks together.”
The dairy industry can offer solutions to the global warming issue through a collaborative effort with the public and the right leadership.
“Ever since the enlightenment we’ve been getting better and better at bringing scientific organizations into a free society so we can prove it,” Kyte said. “As a result, just about every measurable area we chose to improve, we’ve been having improvement every decade.”
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