Tulare County cuts dairy emissions by 19%

Tulare County dairy emissions dropped by 3% in the last year and 19% in the last nine years  as emission reduction deadlines approach this year and in 2030

TULARE COUNTY – There are still more cows than people living in Tulare County but there is a lot less of their gas passing into the air.

Tulare County released its annual report on dairy emissions in March detailing industry efforts to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions in 2021 and the effect of voluntary projects implemented since 2013. The report is part of a settlement reached with the Sierra Club over a decade ago to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions in the nation’s larget milk producing county. The report also addresses a stipulated settlement in 2019 led by the Sierra Club as well as the Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity, with the County of Tulare and its progress toward reducing methane emissions from manure as part of Senate Bill 1383. Approved in 2016, the law requires dairies and feedlots to reduce methane emissions 40% by 2030.

In 2021, the overall operation of county dairies and feedlots and their support crops produced an estimated 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) GHG emissions. This quantity was 19% less than the 2013 baseline year emissions and 3% less than the previous inventory year (2020) emissions.

The reduction in emissions from 2020 to 2021 was primarily associated with implementation of additional digester project that captures methane emissions. The voluntary emission reduction projects operating at county dairies and feedlots in 2021 included 70 solar panel projects, 11 solar thermal hot water systems, 38 digester projects, and 8 Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) projects which often receive financial support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). These projects provided 592,131 metric tons of CO2e reductions in calendar year 2021. These reductions constituted 56% of the annual emission reductions needed to achieve the Dairy and Feedlot Climate Action Plan (Dairy CAP) target by 2023. To meet the target, county dairies and feedlots will need to reduce emissions by an additional 457,869 metric tons per year by the end of 2023.

Projects not implemented at the time of the report but scheduled to begin sometime in 2022 or later would provide further reductions of up to 418,796 metric tons of CO2e per year when operational. This leaves only 39,073 metric tons per year of emission reductions needed from yet-to-be identified solar, digester, AMMP, or enteric projects to reach the Dairy CAP target before year’s end.

In 2021, manure management operations at county dairies and feedlots produced an estimated 4.9 million metric tons of methane CO2e emissions, 15% below 2013 levels. To meet the Senate Bill 1383 target, county dairies and feedlots will need to further reduce methane CO2e emissions by an additional 1.4 million metric tons per year by 2030. At the time of this study, additional projects already scheduled to begin this year would provide further methane CO2e reductions of up to 414,991 metric tons per year when operational. This leaves a little more than 1 million metric tons per year of methane CO2e reductions needed from yet-to-be identified digester, AMMP, or enteric projects by 2030. Changes to the animal population would also affect emissions.The latest figures show the total cattle population of the county is climbing.

Although County dairies and feedlots have made significant progress in reducing their GHG emissions, additional reduction projects will be needed through this year and by 2030 to meet the Dairy CAP and SB 1383 targets. The county will continue to track and regulate dairies and feedlots through its Animal Confinement Facilities Plan (ACFP) framework. Continued state and federal incentive funding will be necessary to make additional emission reduction projects economically feasible for the dairy industry.

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