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The importance of reducing methane emissions as a core climate strategy is well documented by state, national and international regulatory, academic, and scientific institutions.

California has set aggressive world-leading targets (SB 1383 [Lara 2016]) for reducing methane from dairy and other livestock (primarily beef cattle) sectors. The legislature designed SB 1383 goals as a “carrot, and then stick (if necessary)” policy approach. SB 1383 prioritized the use of voluntary, incentive-based measures to achieve methane reductions before regulation would be developed and implemented, if needed. In response, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have designed and implemented a comprehensive set of grant and market procurement programs to incentivize adoption of dairy methane reduction projects.

 

These methane reduction programs recognize the broad diversity of dairy farm sizes and operations in California. As a result, they provide a variety of options and incentives designed to meet the needs of the state’s existing farms. Additionally, continued milk production efficiency and dairy herd attrition in California (more milk, fewer cows and fewer input resources) is also significantly reducing in-state dairy sector methane emissions in the short term. Finally, the state is funding significant research focused on effective livestock sector methane reduction.

California’s Comprehensive Approach

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As CARB’s Analysis of Progress report correctly concludes, no single livestock methane reduction action can achieve the targeted reductions. Achieving the state’s targeted reductions requires a concerted approach involving continued efficiency (fewer cows), methane avoidance, methane capture and utilization, as well as enteric methane reduction activities. Ongoing research is also important as we seek to identify, implement, and verify cost-effective enteric reduction strategies.

Efficiency and Attrition 

Producing more milk with fewer cows greatly reduces the carbon intensity of milk production. After a period of rapid herd growth in California between 1980 and 2008, the number of cows in California has steadily declined from 1.88 million milk cows in 2008 to 1.688 million in 2022, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s most recent Census of Agriculture (2017-2022). This herd attrition has already accounted for approximately 2MMT of CO2e reduction from the state’s dairy sector (a roughly 10% decrease). Continued and likely accelerated attrition will lead to an estimated additional 1 MMT CO2e reduction by 2030. Learn more about efficiency and attrition.

Methane Avoidance (Alternative Manure Management) 

Implementing projects on existing dairy farms of all sizes to avoid methane production is a cornerstone of CDFA’s Alternative Manure Management Program or AMMP. The program has funded 170 AMMP projects to date. These projects include installation of manure solid-liquid separators, conversion from flush to scrape or vacuum systems, construction of compost pack barns, and expansion of pasture-based farming systems. More recently, installation of vermifiltration systems (worm beds) has been funded with the matching support of USDA funds (Dairy Plus Program).

Methane Capture and Utilization 
CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) provides grants to dairy digester projects to buy down the capital cost of the technology. The program currently funds only a small portion of the overall capital costs (up to $1.6 million or generally less than 25%) of a typical project that can easily exceed $8 million -$10 million or more. Additional revenue streams associated with the beneficial use of the captured methane, such as the Low Carbon Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and CPUC Biomat and RNG procurement programs are also needed to incentivize investment. 

Enteric Methane Emissions Reduction 
Enteric methane (from animal belches) is created by the complex digestive system of ruminant animals. Methane-reducing feed additives, (such as red seaweed, essential oils, and other compounds) which can alter the digestive system and reduce enteric emissions, are currently being developed but are not yet commercially available. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to soon approve a compound (3-NOP or Bovaer) for use in the U.S.; Bovaer is already available in South America, European Union, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. California is already out front with efforts by CDFA to create an early adopter incentive program to offset the costs for participating farms.

Research and Education 
CDFA is continuing to conduct critical research into dairy and livestock emission reduction strategies. The scope of this research has focused on developing solutions, estimating and verifying reductions and environmental benefits, as well as farmer outreach and support.

California’s comprehensive approach to reducing methane from dairy and other livestock is fully consistent with federal approaches and is widely regarded as an effective model. The state’s dairy methane reduction strategies are designed to provide cost-effective options and incentives for the state’s diverse array of dairy farms. Continuation of these programs is critical to achieve the state’s methane reduction and overall climate goals by 2030. A December 2022, UC Davis report, Meeting the Call: How California is Pioneering a Pathway to Significant Dairy Sector Methane Reduction, summed it up as follows:

“Our analysis shows that continued implementation and commitment to the incentive-based climate-smart solutions that are currently driving voluntary dairy methane reduction in California should by 2030, achieve the full 40% reduction in dairy methane sought by state regulators without the need for direct regulation.”

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California is taking its climate action around the world and launching a new pledge to cut global methane emissions. 

Dairy farmers in the Golden State are leading the way, reducing more than 24 million metric tons of methane (CO2e) over 10 years. 

Scroll to read more about dairy farmers' efforts, or click to read about California's methane pledge

California dairy farms are capturing methane and creating clean, renewable energy. 

More than 120 dairy farms in California currently have digesters operating. Another 100-plus digester projects are in development, to soon be capturing methane from 255 dairy farms. Renewable energy created on California dairies is already making a difference, replacing diesel use and helping power the state's clean-energy future:

 

  • Today, California dairy farms are generating enough renewable natural gas to fuel more than 3,456 transit buses.

  • At the same time, California dairy farms are also generating enough renewable electricity to power more than 12,399 electric vehicles.

  • In total, California dairy farms power more than 15,000 vehicles daily.

Equivalency calculations based on  the average “UBUS” rate per CARB’s EMFAC 2021 emissions model and  the average “LDA” rate per CARB’s EMFAC 2021 emissions model.

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California dairy leads the state's climate efforts. 

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California's Climate-Smart Agriculture programs are top-notch! The are at the top of the list of climate programs that are achieving major reductions in GHG emissions. 

 

The Dairy Digester Research and Development Program is the number one program in terms of total GHG reductions and cost effectiveness (reducing 1 ton of GHG reductions for every $9 invested by the state).  

The dairy digester program is responsible for achieving 22% of GHG reductions from all climate programs invested in by the state with just 1.6% of the total funds awarded.

Additionally, another Climate-Smart Agriculture program, the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) is also helping to reduce GHGs and improve protection of groundwater on California dairy farms. 

California dairy is on track for climate neutrality. 

A new peer-reviewed study published by researchers from the CLEAR Center at the University of California at Davis shows the California dairy sector is on target to reach the state's world leading methane reduction goals.  The peer-reviewed study, published in CABI Biological Sciences, examined the California dairy sector's progress toward the target set by Senate Bill 1383—a 40% reduction of methane emissions below 2013 levels by 2030. Evaluating the atmospheric warming contributions from 2019 to 2030 under multiple scenarios, researchers identified potential pathways for the industry to not only meet but exceed SB 1383 requirements. The study also concludes the California dairy sector could reach climate neutrality—contributing no additional warming to the atmosphere—as soon as 2027.A recent analysis by UC Davis researchers further documents accomplishments to date and shows that continued implementation of California’s incentive-based dairy methane reduction efforts should, by 2030, achieve the state’s world-leading target for reducing dairy methane emissions by 40% by 2030. Additionally, the report predicts that California dairy farms will reach “climate neutrality” by 2030, or  the point in which no additional warming is added to the atmosphere.

Additionally, several reports from the Newsom Administration document the significant environmental, climate, social, and economic benefits of dairy digesters and other dairy methane reduction efforts. These benefits include significant direct and indirect benefits to local disadvantaged communities and priority populations.

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California Climate Investments - 2023 Annual Report

  • Documents that the dairy digester program is responsible for achieving 22% of all GHG reductions from all programs invested in by the state with just 1.6% of total funds implemented.

  • Identifies the dairy digester program as the state's most cost effective, at just $9 per ton of reduction.

  • Reports that 68% of funds expended on dairy digesters are benefiting priority populations. 

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California Department of Food and Agriculture -  Report of Funded (DDRDP) Projects

  • Estimates the cumulative reduction from the dairy digester program as 22.95 million metric tons (MMTCO2e) over 10 years or 2.3 MMTCO2e annually.  

  • Documents the environmental protection of water and air quality. 

  • Identifies significant air, water quality, and nuisance (odor) benefits provided to local communities. 

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California Air Resources Board -  Analysis of Progress toward Achieving the 2030 Dairy and Livestock Sector Methane Emissions Target

  • Documents the progress toward the targeted livestock sector methane reductions. 

  • Identifies the need for additional incentives and grant funding. ​

  • Estimates the societal benefits of reducing methane emissions at up to $1,878 per metric ton.

  • Documents the 40% target reduction in dairy and livestock methane cannot be achieved without significant additional digester development.

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The United Nations environmental program (UNep) assessment underscores the importance of methane reduction in the dairy and livestock sector to overall achievement of the global Paris Climate Agreement to limit additional warming to 1.5 degrees C by 2050. 

  • The Global Methane Assessment recognizes the value of reducing methane in the short-term, including important social, health, environmental, and economic benefits. ​

  • The Global Methane Assessment specifically identifies livestock methane as well as the use of biogas digesters as critical targeted measures to achieve reductions in the short term. 

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