Despite a welcome wet start to California’s rainy season, long-term prospects for having enough water for agriculture in parts of the San Joaquin Valley are jeopardized by more than just drought. A new proposal by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) recommends that the unimpaired flows of the San Joaquin River and its main tributaries be increased from the current 20 percent average to between 30-to-50 percent to help fish survive.
Through improved production efficiency, the water footprint of a glass of milk has been continuously reduced over the years. Dairy farmers in the Golden State are now making further strides in water conservation with more efficient crop irrigation technologies and milk cooling water recycling practices. Water-use efficiency will become even more important as ongoing and more frequent drought conditions continue to tighten the water supply for agriculture.
Dairy sustainability is taking root across the Golden State in many ways. Increasing utilization of solar energy on dairy farms is definitely at the forefront of this trend and reflects the long-term commitment of dairy families to sustainable practices.
In the final weeks of the legislative session, California lawmakers passed major climate change measures, including Senate Bill 32 (Pavley), which extends the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target from achieving 1990 emission levels by 2020 to reducing 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Farm nitrogen use and its potential impact on the environment, particularly on water quality, has recently received considerable attention from university researchers. Few of these academic assessments, however, provide an objective overview of the comprehensive efforts by dairy farmers to more efficiently, effectively and sustainably apply nitrogen fertilizer.
After a staff presentation on the State’s proposed Short-Lived Climate Pollution Reduction Strategy (SLCP) on May 19th, members of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) heard from numerous dairy and other representatives who were highly critical of the unrealistic dairy methane-reduction targets and looming regulatory regime in the proposal.
A recently revised Air Resources Board Climate Pollutant (SLCP) Reduction Strategy sets highly unrealistic mandates for dairy methane reduction. The SLCP strategy is part of the state’s broader effort to reduce gas emissions. The plan contains targets for dairy methane reduction including a “75 percent reduction of dairy manure methane from 2013 levels by 2030,” and a “25 percent reduction in enteric emissions by 2030.” The major change in the revised plan is a proposal to begin “regulating” dairies as early as 2017.
While the proposed strategy recognizes the significant efforts the state’s dairies have already made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is seeking huge additional reductions and, thereby, setting the industry up for failure. California dairies have been recognized by prominent researchers as having among the lowest carbon “hoofprints” per unit of milk produced, which is the standard measure of methane emission from dairy cows.
Agriculture has long been a partnership between man and nature, and that partnership has flourished in California. The state’s dairy farmers take great pride in the sustainable practices they have cultivated and their special relationship to their land and cows. Sustainable dairy farming has been a family affair for generations in California as chronicled in the most recent Dairy Cares Sustainability Report, which is available here.