Highlights from the California Dairy Sustainability Summit

Kevin Abernathy MPC General Manager

Dairy Cares hosted the California Dairy Sustainability Summit online yesterday and today. More than 50 expert speakers lined up to present at the conference, covering topics ranging from reducing on-farm costs and improving nutrient management to developing new business opportunities and advancing environmental sustainability.

Below are just some of the highlights from the summit:

One of the first presentations of the Summit was from Dr. Ermias Kebreab, associate dean and director of the World Food Center at UC Davis, where he discussed advancing environmental performance in California and across the globe.

Dr. Kebreab noted that his study found significant reductions in California dairy’s environmental footprint amid increased output due in part to the use of byproducts to feed California cows. California is producing more milk with less cows, which in turn is decreasing emission intensity. Dr. Kebreab went on to say that if all other regions in the world produced milk as efficiently as California dairy families, there would be 1.73% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Later in the day, Dr. Kebreab joined Dr. Myles Allen, professor at the University of Oxford; Richard Corey, the executive officer of the California Air Resources Board; and Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at UC Davis for a conversation about methane, cows and climate change moderated by Michael Boccadoro, the executive director of Dairy Cares.

Dr. Allen discussed the difference between the impact of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, noting that methane doesn’t have the same impact on global temperatures as carbon dioxide due to its cyclical nature. He went on to say that it’s “comparing apples to oranges” because the two are different greenhouse gases and therefore behave in different ways.

Corey highlighted the 1,000% increase in dairy digester development, where just five years ago there where only 12 in operation and now there are more than 100. California is now on track to reduce methane emissions levels by 40% below 2013 levels from livestock and dairy manure management practices, with Corey saying the California dairy industry can serve as a model for others.

Dr. Mitloehner was asked by Boccadoro about the term “super pollutant,” which had been used to describe methane many years ago by some in Sacramento. He said, “if there were a super pollutant, it’d be CO2 (carbon dioxide).”

This morning, Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Expert Council, joined David Darry, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Office for Dairy Farmers of America; Rob Vandenheuvel, senior vice president, member and industry relations for California Dairies, Inc; and Pete Kappelman, senior vice president, member and government relations for Land O’Lakes for a discussion about advancing environmental and economic sustainability.

The panel discussed the valuable partnerships and pathways that are helping California dairy farmers implement new technologies and strategies. During the panel, Vilsack noted that North American dairy farmers are the only farmers in the world that have reduced their carbon footprint over the last 15 years.

And lastly, our very own Geoff Vanden Heuvel moderated a session on SGMA strategies for California dairy farmers with Joey Airoso, owner, Circle A Dairy; Jason Gianquinto, general manager, Semitropic Water Storage District; Taryn Ravazzini, deputy director, California Department of Water Resources; and Scott Peterson, water policy director, San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority.

Each discussed how SGMA will impact dairies in the coming years and how local groundwater agencies are approaching the challenge.

This year’s virtual Sustainability Summit showcased how California’s dairy families are leading the way in developing sustainable, planet-smart farming. If you missed a presentation, and registered for the conference, you can login to watch recordings of the sessions at www.cadairysummit.com.

Editor’s Note: This report appears in the Nov. 6 newsletter of the Milk Producers Council and is used here with permission

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