Link to the guest editorial in the Fresno Bee.
BY CHUCK ALHEM
A recent op-ed in The Bee focused on the heightened attention that short-lived climate pollutants, including methane, are now receiving in regard to climate change, and on the effort that California is making to curtail these emissions.
While the author rightly noted that this is an important endeavor, making dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley a prime target of his criticism for these emissions is misplaced.
It’s hardly news that cows and manure produce methane, an important greenhouse gas. But the author’s contention that dairies have “failed to reduce (methane) emissions voluntarily” simply isn’t true. Since the end of World War II, dairy farmers in California and the rest of the nation have reduced the overall carbon “hoofprint” of a glass of milk by 63 percent (and it also takes about two-thirds less water today for each glass of milk produced in California).
Yet there is an exciting opportunity to do more – not only to capture methane from dairies using anaerobic digesters, but to turn it into a clean transportation fuel that could partially replace diesel and reduce pollution from heavy-duty trucks traveling our busy California highways. That would help clean the Valley’s air and reduce the state’s carbon footprint. And we agree with the author’s suggestion that “policymakers should use financial incentives to help farmers and ranchers to make this transition.”
California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols also envisions significant biomethane potential as well. In her testimony before the Senate Environmental Quality Committee last month, she stressed the need to “unlock a torrent of investment that would create new industries and markets for clean technologies and bring billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the Central Valley and rural California.”
Dairy digesters not only allow for the production of biogas, but can decrease odors and improve water quality. In addition, the solid byproduct produced by the anaerobic digesters, known as digestate, can be mixed with added nutrients to create compost, or can be used alone as a soil amendment to aid in improving soil quality, help prevent runoff, retain surface water and improve plant growth.
California dairy organizations have been working closely with CARB and the Department of Food and Agriculture on a strategic plan to build and operate more dairy biogas digesters to capture methane and convert it to electricity or fuel, and to use digestate for healthier soils.
Digesters provide great “bang for the buck” for greenhouse reduction, so the draft strategic plan recommends deploying them on as many as several hundred dairies in the state, with an initial investment of $500 million over the next five years. Now the governor and Legislature need to step up and provide this critical investment incentive so that the actual means to reduce short-lived climate pollutants matches the state’s ambitious goals.
In contrast, if dairies in California are regulated under the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or otherwise mandated to reduce these emissions as some have proposed, the likely result will be a loss of jobs and commerce in an industry that contributes $21 billion and 189,000 jobs annually to the state’s economy.
Numerous dairy operations have already moved to other states, and climate regulations or mandates would no doubt spur this exodus to non-regulated states. Under that scenario, Valley residents lose twice. We lose jobs and the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, our dairy farms emit about 45 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk produced compared to the global average.
Through wider adoption of existing best practices, such as those used here in the Valley, dairy farmers around the world can begin achieving the greater production efficiencies that California farming families have developed over generations and continue to develop for a sustainable future.
Chuck Alhem is the chairman of Dairy Cares, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that strives to ensure the long-term sustainability of California’s farming families through strong environmental stewardship and responsible animal care.
While EPA and Whatsupstream attack farmers, PBS tells the truth in national news story on dairy digesters
Bio-gas digesters are one of the many innovative and important strategies dairy farms are using to improve water and environmental protection and sustainability. These convert the cows' manure, plus consumer waste, into power, natural gas and other valuable products.
On March 29, PBS News Hour featured bio-gas digesters in Colorado, pointing out how important these are not only now for protecting the environment, but in the future as a major source of energy in the nation.
Washington State dairy farmers are national leaders in the use of bio-gas digesters. The VanderHaak dairy in Lynden, Washington earned the 2014 Dairy Sustainability Award for its digester, and Edaleen Dairy's Mitch Moorlag explains how their bio-gas digester helps protect the environment while helping make use of consumer waste and creating valuable products.
The federal use of tax dollars to support the malicious political attack on farmers and farming is being investigated by Don Jenkins of the Capital Press. This newspaper serves the agricultural industry on the West Coast.
The focus of Save Family Farming is communicating with our leaders and citizens that farmers are helping to protect our environment and water quality and that the accusations and claims made by whatsupstream are false. We are concerned about the use of federal funding for this political attack, but mostly concerned about the impact these accusations are having on the understanding of farmers' environmental responsibility.
Read the Capital Press article here.
UPDATE March 28:
Capital Press published online a followup article making clear that the EPA was kept informed about this attack on farming and incredulously, did not consider it political or a violation of federal rules against lobbying and attempting to influence legislators:
Read the Capital Press article here.
The Bellingham Herald ran an editorial cartoon by Rik Dalvit which did a good job of identifying who's polluting what.
The Lynden Tribune in the March 16 edition ran a guest editorial submitted by Save Family Farming.
The sponsors and content creators of Whatsupstream including their Seattle public relations firm, Strategies360, have made a very serious mistake: they are not telling the truth about farming, water quality and regulations to protect the environment. We are confident that once the media, our government leaders and our citizens understand just how dishonest this attack on farmers is, nothing they say will be believed again. It is a huge mistake in today's open and transparent public information environment to so damage your credibility. But, it is up to all of us to make certain everyone knows the truth about family farming and what they do to protect the environment including water quality.
DairyLine is a nationally broadcast radio program and the Mielke Market Weekly is distributed to dairy farmers across the nation. The whatsupstream attack on Washington farmers is being brought to the attention of farmers through these outlets. Unfortunately, we can't count on federal taxpayer funds to bring our message to the public, but with funding support from farmers, farm groups and farm-related businesses, we can help counter the lies, distortions and propaganda presented by whatsupstream and its sponsors.
Here's what appeared in this week's Mielke Market Weekly:
Dairy operations are under attack again in Washington State. You’ll recall last year I reported on some lawsuits in Eastern Washington that held dairies responsible for alleged ground water contamination from lagoons and the issue was raised of manure applied to field crops being considered a toxic waste.
This same activist group has begun a media campaign in Western Washington, again casting dispersion on the dairy industry. Gerald Baron, spokesperson for www.savefamilyfarming.org, reported in Friday’s DairyLine that the latest attack is outlined in a websitewww.whatsupstream.com and, in addition to the false information presented there, the effort is being funded in part by taxpayer dollars.
“They’re using, we believe, inappropriately, an EPA grant to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission to attack farmers in a really vicious and malicious way,” Baron stated. And, when asked why this situation in Washington State should be a concern for a dairy producer in Wisconsin, New York, or Texas, Baron stated that, “while we’re on the Left Coast with plenty of environmental activism, this kind of activity is happening all over the country.”
He warned that it’s vital for dairy producers to “prepare and engage,” by coming together in organizations like the one he represents and work together because “they can’t afford to allow these groups to get such a head of steam that public opinion really turns against farming as this group is definitely trying to do.”
SaveFamilyFarming is counting on support from people like you who care about the truth about farming and care about making Washington State a place safe for family farming. Want to help? Please let us know.
We very much appreciate the quick and positive response of Whatcom Transit Authority to the concerns raised by farmers and farm supporters about the Whatsupstream ads placed on buses in Whatcom County. While we cannot expect the same from the Bellingham Herald and KUOW who are also running these false and malicious attack ads, we hope that this example provided by WTA will help bring the true nature of this attack to the public's attention.
This is the message that WTA has distributed regarding their action:
At Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA), our policy is to prohibit advertisements that “express or advocate an opinion, position or viewpoint on matters of public debate.” For a few days in early March, we displayed some advertisements that violated our own policy. Though we were able to get them removed soon after we learned about them, we apologize that they appeared on our buses at all. Our transit advertising is handled by a third party vendor. While our vendor is aware of our policy, and generally does an excellent job of declining requests for prohibited advertisements, this one slipped through the cracks. We are sorry.
Local Radio Station Exposes Malicious Attack of WUS against farmers
We just received word that the Whatcom Transit Authority (WTA) is removing the whatsupstream ad from all buses as they violate their advertising policies. We heard this through one of our farmers and will work to confirm.
WTA has heard from many in the Whatcom community about their disgust over this patently false advertising. Of all people, these farmers know that saying farming is unregulated is an outright lie and showing pictures of dairy cows standing in a stream is outrageous. It is the equivalent of showing someone running a red light and stating that there are no laws against running red lights.
Earlier today (Monday, March 7) Whatcom County's newstalk radio station featured the bus ad and the whatsupstream attacks on their Morning Show. You can listen to that program here. This is just the beginning of the exposure of the false and malicious campaign run by the sponsors of WUS against farmers.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.