UC helps Marin dairy operators clear the air

Feb 4, 2010

UC Cooperative Extension provided Marin ranchers and dairy operators exposure at a two-hour workshop Feb. 2 to the latest conservation practices that can help the agriculture industry reduce its environmental impacts and increase farm and ranch energy efficiency.

In addition to local farmers, reporter Rob Rogers was at the event collecting information for an article published in the Marin Independent Journal yesterday.

Rogers reported that cows produce a smaller percentage of greenhouse gases in the United States and Europe than in other nations, where farming is a larger part of the economy, and where it's practiced less efficiently. According to the United Nations, livestock produce about 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gasses. In the U.S., livestock is responsible for just 5.8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Workshop speaker Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis air quality specialist, said research shows that it is cows - not waste storage lagoons - that emit most methane and nitrous oxide on dairies.

"Lagoon waste is so heavily diluted that it's a smaller factor than fresh waste," Mitloehner was quoted in the story.

He offered solutions that may not sit well with organic producers:

  • Produce more milk with fewer cows by increasing efficiency.

  • Cut back on grass-fed cattle, which, because of extra roughage, produce more methane.

Albert Strauss, an organic dairy farmer who also spoke at the meeting, noted that reducing cow emissions is only part of the environmental picture. One option for reducing dairy emissions is converting waste into energy with a methane digester. Using this technology, the Strauss operation meets its own energy needs and will soon be selling extra energy back to PG&E, the article said.

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist