California’s Dairy Farmers Moo-ve to Reduce Methane Emissions

Michael Boccadoro, Executive Director of Dairy Cares, says the dairy industry is on track to reduce its methane emissions by 40 percent by the year 2030. Image: Kelly Klein/Valley Public Radio

Dairies in the state of California contribute to about 3% of the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions–this is mostly due to cow burps and the fermentation of their manure. It’s because of this that the state has set strict targets for dairy farms to reduce their GHG emissions 40% below 2013 levels by 2030.

The good news? Dairy farmers are already more than 60% of the way to meeting these targets.


How Did This Happen?: As Michael Boccadoro, Executive Director of the industry coalition Dairy Cares told NPR, the reductions have come mostly from incentives from the state like the sizeable grants.

Additionally, the uptick in the use of digesters–which help capture methane emissions from cow manure and turn it into electricity or natural gas–has helped with the rapid emissions reductions. As the Sun-Gazette reported:

  • The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced last month that an additional $102 million has been awarded this year to support the implementation of dairy methane reduction projects.
  • 93 new projects were funded, including 43 methane digesters that capture methane and 50 alternative manure management projects.
  • There are currently more than 229 dairy methane reduction projects in operation or under development on California dairy farms.

Is There a Downside?: Environmental groups have opposed the expansion of digesters in states like California and Oregon citing that the technology is still ultimately a dirty energy source and also doesn’t do anything to capture methane from cow burps and farts.

Why This Matters: California has the nation’s largest dairy industry and produces 20% of our milk. That means that any steps that California dairy farmers take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions will have an outsized impact as well as serve as a blueprint for other states. Although capturing methane from cow manure is only half the battle, there is promising research that has shown incorporating seaweed into a cow’s food can drastically reduce the amount of methane their digestive systems produce.


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