Tulare County drives down cattle emissions

Photo by Rigo Moran

Local dairies and feedlots are on pace to meet carbon dioxide emission reductions but are falling behind on methane emission reductions deadlines in 2030

TULARE COUNTY – Local dairies and feedlots have made significant progress in reducing their carbon hoofprint as they drive cattle projects toward a 2030 deadline.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors received an annual report on greenhouse gas emissions from dairy and feedlots at its May 14 meeting. The report summarizes data for the 2022 year, the most current year in which emission reduction data has been calculated. County staff must compile the report annually to comply with a settlement from a 2019 lawsuit on cattle emissions filed by the Sierra Club, as well as Association of Irritated Residents and Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2022, the overall operation of County dairies and feedlots and their support crops produced an estimated 5,809,893 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) GHG emissions. This quantity was 22% less than the 2013 baseline year’s emissions and 4% less than the previous inventory year’s (2021) emissions. The reduction in emissions from 2021 to 2022 was primarily associated with implementation of additional dairy digester projects.

The voluntary emission reduction projects operated at County dairies and feedlots in 2022 included 75 solar panel projects, 11 solar thermal hot water systems, 43 digester projects and 12 Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) projects. These projects provided 798,953 metric tons of CO2e reductions in calendar year 2022. These reductions constituted 76% of the annual emission reductions needed to achieve the Dairy and Feedlot Climate Action Plan’s (Dairy CAP) 2023 target.

To meet the target, County dairies and feedlots will need to reduce emissions by an additional 251,047 metric tons per year by the end of 2023. At the time of this study, the known additional projects scheduled for post-2022 operation would provide further reductions of up to 235,111 metric tons of CO2e per year when operational. These additional projects would bring the emission reductions up to 98% of the Dairy CAP target, leaving a gap of just 15,936 metric tons per year.

On average, a dairy digester project in Tulare County reduces emissions by about 14,500 metric tons of CO2e per year. That means the county may be just one dairy digester project short of meeting its 2023 goal.

Operators have further to go to manage manure operations to reduce methane emissions.

In 2022, manure management operations at County dairies and feedlots produced an estimated 4,684,909 metric tons of methane CO2e emissions. This emissions quantity was 19% below 2013 levels. That leaves Tulare County short of its trajectory in 2022 by 373,091 metric tons of CO2e. On average, AMMP’s only reduce emissions by about 2,000 metric tons of methane CO2e per year.

To meet the Senate Bill 1383 target, County dairies and feedlots will need to further reduce methane CO2e emissions by an additional 1,214,909 metric tons per year by 2030. As of 2022, the known additional projects scheduled for post-2022 operation would provide further methane CO2e reductions of up to 228,780 metric tons per year when operational.

This leaves another 986,129 metric tons per year of methane CO2e reductions needed from yet-to-be identified digester, AMMP or enteric projects – which reduce emissions through higher quality feed, animal health and birthing practices – to reach the target by 2030.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the report.

Alfalfa hay price down one third year-over-year

Valley dairymen are paying less to feed their cows. USDA reports that the average price of alfalfa hay in March dropped below $200 per ton for the first time since April 2021. The March average price for alfalfa hay fell to $195, down $5 per ton from February and the 11th consecutive month of price decline since a record-high average price of $287 per ton in April 2023.

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