In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would place more regulations on the dairy industry for the stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to stave off global warming. Even though those regulations are not set to go into effect until 2024, dairy farmers are already growing anxious about the rising costs resulting from the new regulations, and the likelihood that they’ll have to leave the state.
State regulators hope to reduce methane emissions to 40 percent below the state’s 2013 levels, and they hope to meet these goals by 2030. According to the United Nations, 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, most of which comes from dairy and beef production in the form of belching, passed gas, and manure. About a quarter of the state’s methane comes from cow manure.
One of the ways the state plans to crack down on methane production is to regulate cattle’s diet.
Another is through the use of methane digesters. Cow manure is collected and stored in a tank, and when the methane is produced, it’s captured and used to produce electricity.
California has set aside $50 million to assist farmers in setting up methane digesters, but farmers say that’s not going to be enough, considering there are about 1,500 dairy farms across the state.
In 2013, New Hope Dairy in Sacramento County installed a $4 million methane digester with the assistance of state grants and a partnership with California Biogas, a bioenergy company that produced electricity for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
But according to one dairy farmer Arlin Van Groningen, he couldn’t afford to buy and run a methane digester. “The bottom line is it’s going to negatively impact the economics of the California dairy industry,” he said of the new law. “In the dairy business, the margins are so slim that something like this will force us out of state.”
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with implementing methane digesters on dairy farms. The problem is when governments get involved and make it mandatory and offer subsidies which may not cover all the costs. If something is truly more cost effective and better, then let the market prove it. Government mandates only drive costs up.
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