California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation this week ordering the state’s dairy farmers to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent by 2024. A 2009 United Nations report revealed that animal agriculture produces more methane gas than all transportation combined—most predominantly with cows raised for dairy and meat. Dairy farms in California currently house about three million cows, who collectively produce 20 percent of the nation’s dairy milk. The new regulations have dairy farmers scrambling for solutions. Frank Mitloehner, a professor of Animal Sciences at University of California, Davis, points to methane trapping technology (or “digesters”) as a way for farmers to meet the 2024 goal. However, Mitloehner reveals, “We don’t have a network of vendors that can put out 500, 600 digesters in a hurry.” This sentiment is being echoed by CEO of Western United Dairymen Anja Raudabaugh, who adds that such an undertaking would require millions of dollars. “We’re optimistic, but still very skeptical that we’re going to meet that goal,” Raudabaugh says. Many California dairy farmers have begun to reduce methane emissions by converting their land—wholly or in part—into almond groves, which not only contain a lower carbon footprint but give farmers an opportunity to tap into the lucrative dairy alternative market. This switch has resulted in 10,000 fewer dairy cows in California in the period between January and July 2016.
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