California Dairy: Momentum Continues in World-Leading Sustainability Endeavors

The California Dairy Sustainability Summit showcased incredible partnerships, investment, and success.

Leaders from Dairy Cares and USDA (top row), the California Air Resources Board and CDFA (bottom row) discussed policies to support dairy farmers in their efforts to reduce emissions and improve sustainability.

The third California Dairy Sustainability Summit demonstrated tremendous optimism about planet-smart dairy farming. Speakers from across the state, nation, and the globe discussed California dairy's leadership in adopting sustainable dairy farm practices and the importance of these efforts in achieving global goals. Conversations were grounded in a recognition that sustainability efforts should also work to safeguard and improve access to nutritious and affordable milk and dairy foods that support healthy people and communities. The three-day program painted a clear picture of successful strategies, accomplishments to date, and the incredible collaboration under way as dairy farmers and their diverse partners continue working hard to address the significant challenges ahead.


Dairy leaders representing international coalitions and major global dairy companies explained the well-planned, strategic, and cooperative approaches they are taking to urgently fight climate change. Leaders from Nestlé and Starbucks, among the largest global dairy customers, spoke about their efforts to work directly with dairy farmers and to support on-farm pilot projects. This includes on-farm visits and partnership programs with the dairy farmer-owners of California Dairies, Inc., California’s largest dairy cooperative.


In a short period of time, California has developed programs and infrastructure that are supporting more than 300 on-farm methane reduction projects, including 200 dairy digesters in various stages of development. In the case of digesters, dairy farmers’ efforts are not only curbing emissions, but also helping to fuel a clean energy transformation. Dairy biogas is being used to fuel heavy-duty trucks, electric cars, homes, and even hydrogen-powered cranes and equipment used at the Port of Los Angeles.


The importance of these efforts was discussed further in a session focused on policies, which included state and national governmental officials. Richard Corey, Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board, explained that incentive programs for capital investments and market certainty for carbon credits and renewable fuels both play a critical role in California’s success today, allowing for the opportunity to innovate, invest, and drive change.


“With that comes a lot of responsibility for policymakers in terms of sending clear signals, sticking with those signals, certainly adapting as information evolves, but also not zigging and zagging by the week and confusing the market, and putting a wet blanket on the investments that we need to see to support the kind of transformation we’re seeing,” Corey said. “I think that’s not only fundamental to the type of change we need and are seeing in California. I think it’s fundamental to change, and necessary nationally and internationally.”


Another reoccurring theme mentioned by speakers from with the scientific community, policy arena, and the dairy sector was the importance of continued monitoring, verification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions to ensure success. Dr. Sara Place and Dr. Frank Mitloehner, who work extensively with the dairy and beef sectors, noted that there is a strong willingness within those sectors to reduce emissions. They also explained how industry goals for achieving climate neutrality in the near future are within reach, noting that tremendous progress is being made in California.


Speakers included California dairy farmer Steve Shehadey, whose family farm was the first in the world to install an innovative digester system that uses fuel cells. Using this next-generation technology, the farm creates clean electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to power BMW electric cars on California highways. Shehadey said that dairy farmers want to improve sustainability and are open to partnership and innovation. He also recognized the importance of incentive dollars to help make projects feasible.


“I think [incentives] are essential,” Shehadey said. “Most dairies have a substantial amount of debt. We’re having to convince our lenders. Having that additional capital makes them feel a little more comfortable, especially with new technologies that haven’t been proven out yet financially.”


Several new manure-handling technologies, breeding strategies, and feed additives were recognized throughout the three-day program for their abilities to reduce climate emissions, enhance air quality, improve the protection of groundwater resources, help address water scarcity, and more. It was noted that ongoing funding support and collaboration will be needed to further pilot, scale-up, and promote adoption of these practices that can address significant environmental challenges. Experts discussed California’s new Manure Recycling and Innovative Products Task Force and other important efforts that aim to maximize dairy’s role in building healthy soils and protecting our air, water, and climate.


Once again, the California Dairy Sustainability Summit provided a holistic view of sustainability goals and efforts, recognizing that dairy farmers aim to ultimately ensure the continued availability of affordable and nutrient-rich food for people. Nutrition experts noted that meat and dairy foods are not easily replaced by plant-based alternatives in terms of both economics and nutrition, highlighting important ways that the global dairy sector is working to promote food security. By being a part of these broader efforts and working with diverse stakeholders to implement changes, California’s family dairy farms are making significant progress in their world-leading planet-smart dairy objectives.


Check out the recordings yourself at CADairySummit.com to hear what 50+ speakers had to say about California dairy’s planet-smart future.


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