‘GHG Guru’ talks about cows as key to ‘climate neutrality’

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Innovation in the face of disruption, that was one of the themes of the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience last week. In fact, Alltech CEO and president Dr. Mark Lyons talked about how innovation has been the driving force behind 35 years of the annual “ideas conference”.

This year, due to COVID-19 preventing the conference from happening in-person, innovation turned the ONE conference into a virtual experience for the first time with participation by over 23,000 people from 144 countries.

“We live in a time of great opportunity, we have younger people asking questions, and when farmers get those questions, they should answer them and not defer,” said Dr. Frank Mitloehner. Friday’s ONE keynote speaker.

Dr. Mitloehner is a University of California-Davis animal science professor and air quality specialist as well as world renown greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions expert. He talked on his favorite subject: “Clearing the air: Debunking the myths of agriculture.”

Mitloehner is a foremost authority on air quality emissions and how to mitigate them within the context of livestock and agriculture, and he is an integral part of a benchmarking project for the environmental footprint for livestock.

The project he deems most important of his career is “getting animal agriculture to a place where we consider it climate neutral,” he said, adding that climate was top-of-mind before COVID-19, and will be again. “There’s a lot of interest in this.”

But the path to climate neutrality begins with proper accounting for methane and how it behaves in the biogenic cycle.

“The one missing entity is the media on this,” said Mitloehner. “We are seeing a major new narrative about animal agriculture and the accurate quantifying of methane, but it is problematic that media are not reporting about it.”

Despite lack of media coverage, Mitloehner expects the new narrative to take hold.

He gave a vivid example of why accurate measurement is needed. Speaking in Ireland recently, he compared photos of the Emerald Isle to photos of Los Angeles to photos of a coal-fired power plant in Europe.

Ireland is so green, with pastures, hedges and forages everywhere, he said. But the way carbon is conventionally quantified, Ireland would have the largest carbon footprint of the three examples.

“But the change in how we perceive GHG is materializing as we speak. We have to think about methane not just produced but also degraded, and how GHG is sequestered,” Mitloehner explained.

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In the old way of quantifying carbon by looking at methane budgets (left side of graphic), not only are methane’s short-lived properties as a ‘flow gas’ ignored, but also the sequestration (shown on the right side) provided by agriculture and forestry as part of a biogenic cycle. Screenshot from Friday’s keynote presentation by Dr. Frank Mitloehner during Alltech’s ONE Virtual Conference.

Using the old way, “They don’t think of sectors like forestry and agriculture serving as a sink for GHG,” he said, comparing the three GHGs — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — in terms of their heat trapping capacity.

“So they look at methane and translate it to a CO2 equivalent. That’s what people have been doing since 1990,” he said. “At that time, scientists had several footnotes and caveats, but they were cut off and people ran with the slides without the footnotes. That is a dangerous situation that has gotten animal agriculture into a lot of trouble actually.”

He explained that CO2 is a long-lived climate pollutant, whereas methane is short lived. Methane is different. Unfortunately, when methane emissions are calculated globally for sectors each year, they don’t consider the whole picture.

“If we don’t get this question right, and the livestock moves, then we have ‘leakage,’” he said. “Most people add it up and stop discussion there, but they shouldn’t. On the right side of the graph are these sinks, and they amount to a respectable total, so the net methane per year is a fraction of the total number they are using.”

Another difference is the life span of these gases. CO2 lives 1000 years, nitrous oxide hundreds of years, methane 10 years, Mitloehner explained. “The methane our cows put out will be gone after 10 years, it is produced and destroyed.”

Dr. Mark Lyons brought up all the talk about “planetary diets” and the “spin and marketing” of eating for you and the planet.

Mitloehner said “the inference of diet on environment is greatly overplayed for PR purposes. The impacts are much lower than some people say who want to sell their alternatives. If and when comparing food groups, it must be done fairly. A pound of beef has a different footprint than a pound of lettuce, but it also has a vastly different nutritional profile.”

Another example he gave was dairy vs. almond juice. “Using the old way of assessing the impact of dairy milk, it is 10 times greater, but almond juice has a 17 times greater water footprint. You can make any food shine, but drill into it and there is no silver bullet. People will continue to eat animal sourced foods and the sound argument is to allow us to produce what people need and crave in the lowest impact possible and that is the route we are going.”

The good news, he said, is that for every one vegan, there are five former vegans. The retention is not good.

He talked the virtual ONE attendees through the process of where carbon comes from and where it ends up. This is why GHG from livestock are significantly different from other sources such as fossil fuel.

Plants need sunlight, carbon in the form of CO2, which is made into carbohydrate, cellulose or starch, ingested by the cow into the rumen where some of it is converted into methane. And after a decade, that methane is converted back into CO2 needed by the plants to make carbohydrate.

“The carbon from our methane originates in the atmosphere, goes through plants, to animals, to air, and again, on repeat,” said Mitloehner.

In this biogenic cycle, if there are constant livestock herds, “then you are not adding carbon to the atmosphere, it is all recycled,” he explained. “What I’m saying here doesn’t mean methane doesn’t matter, but the question really is: Do our livestock herds add to additional methane for additional warming, and the answer is NO.”

This is a total change in the narrative around livestock, and it will be the narrative in the years to come, according to Mitloehner. Because dairy and beef herds have declined so much since the 1950s and 1970s — producing more animal protein at the same time, “We have not caused an increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere but have decreased the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere,” said Mitloehner.

The difference between animal agriculture and fossil fuels is a cycle vs. a one-way street.

“Each time you drive to work, you put CO2 into the atmosphere that lasts 1000 years, and it is a stock gas that adds up each day,” Mitloener said. “Everytime we put it in the atmosphere we add to the existing stock. This is why the curve always goes up, because it is a long-lived climate pollutant. Methane on the other hand is flow gas. Cows can put in the air Monday, but on Tuesday a similar amount that is put in is also being taken out. By having a constant number of cows, you are not adding methane into the atmosphere. The only time you add is throughout the first 10 years of its existence or by increasing herd size.”

He quoted researchers from Oxford University who are also communicating this science and technical papers to the public. But again, the media in general are ignoring it.

What really gets Mitloehner energized are the concepts like biogas and use of it as a renewable fuel in vehicles, for example, and other technologies where dairy and livestock operations can take their climate neutrality and turn it into a cooling effect by counteracting the warming caused by other sectors.

“The current way of accounting for it is a flawed way of looking at it, because it does not account for the fact that keeping methane stable, the amount of warming added is actually zero,” he said. And this is where to build incentive to make up for other sectors that are actively adding to the warming.

“If we were to reduce methane, we could induce cooling,” he said. “We have the ability to do that. This is how agriculture, especially animal agriculture, can be the solution to the warming caused by other sectors of the economy and life.”

Mitloehner measures to quantify the impact of mitigation technologies to see if we can get to that point of reducing other emissions. He talked about California law mandating reduction of methane by 40% by 2030.

“They’ve reduced by 20%, using the carrot instead of the stick. The state incentivizes the financing of technologies that mitigate,” said Mitloehner. “We are now at 25% of the 40% total reduction. If we can do it here, it can be done in other parts of the country and the world… and it means our livestock sector will be on the path of climate neutrality.”

If you have a ‘beef’ with GHG reporting, contact Dr. Mitloehner on Twitter. You can follow him there @GHGGuru. He urges farmers to get involved, get engaged.

— By Sherry Bunting

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Passionate volunteers take 97 Milk effort to next level

New website and online store launched

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The 97milk.com website has a whole new look, new options, more content, and a new online store for ordering whole milk promotion and educational items.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 5, 2020

EPHRATA, Pa. — Just in time for June Dairy Month 2020, the 97milk.com website has been revamped to include more information, more milk facts, new activities for children, more recipes, an area for farmers about forming chapters, and most exciting, a new online store that makes ordering 97 Milk materials easy.

“We knew the old site was outdated. Ordering needs to be easy for people. Now, whether it’s one item or 500, it’s all at your fingertips,” says Jackie Behr, marketing manager for R&J Dairy Consulting. She serves on the 97 Milk LLC board of directors, and she volunteers her time managing the website and social media, including the online store, as well as designing many of the education and promotion items.

It has been 15 months since a group of dairy farmers began meeting monthly in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area to start a milk education effort and website in conjunction with the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales that were initiated in late December 2018 by Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman.

Operating as volunteers, 97 Milk LLC is funded by donations.

Now, the new online store at the upgraded website makes it easy to order single items and bulk items, while returning a small margin to keep the creativity going.

With just a few clicks, items can be ordered, placed in the online cart, paid for and shipped. All prices include shipping.

Some of the items available at the online store are 97 Milk T-shirts, bumper stickers, two sizes of magnets, four styles of banners, two-sided 6 inch by 6 inch whole milk education handouts, stickers with QR codes for milk cases, pens to give out, and “I Love Milk” stickers for kids.

This is just the beginning.

Farmshine reader called the newspaper office recently wanting whole milk education cards to include with milk coupons he was funding for a local food pantry that did not have a way of storing actual milk to give to families in need. Since he was funding these coupons for people to buy milk, he wanted the whole milk information cards to accompany the coupons, and was able to purchase them through the new 97 Milk online store.

Before the website renewal was launched two weeks ago, the process of ordering 97 Milk items, such as information cards and T-shirts, was a bit cumbersome.

“As long as we have the item you order in stock, we ship the next day,” says Behr, adding that items needing to be made or printed typically ship within a week.

Currently, the online store is mainly promotional items for consumer education, and the 97 Milk T-shirts have been a big hit since the first ones were made a year ago for sale during summer events where 97 Milk has operated a booth for face-to-face consumer interaction.

“We are looking at hats, but we are so limited in our funding,” says Behr. The group is hoping funds from purchases at the online store will help them be able to turn around and buy additional types of inventory to offer, as well as allowing a small margin to come back into 97 Milk to keep the website running and fund future promotion activities.

“The goal of the online store is making it easier for people to get involved and to share the information, but it has to be a click, it has to be easy. So we spent the time and money to get here, and we hope to add more items as we go,” Behr explains.

She is quick to point out that for June Dairy Month, a new downloadable activity for children is also available at the 97milk.com homepage, and Behr will be posting fun recipes and will be refreshing the website regularly with new content to keep people interested in coming back and to generate more new activity through online searches.

In addition to the online store, the upgraded website also has a download area where people can download and print off many of the educational posts that have appeared on social media pages.

To keep the movement going, those interested in helping the Drink Whole Milk consumer education effort can also make donations to support the cause.

The “Donate” tab at 97milk.com offers two options.

1) To donate to help 97 Milk keep up the milk education efforts, click under “Help us make a difference.” Since 97 Milk is operated by passionate volunteers, 100% of donations go to 97 Milk’s many educational efforts. In addition to donating online, donations can be mailed to 97 Milk LLC, P.O. Box 97, Bird-In-Hand, PA 17505.

2) To donate funds specifically for purchasing milk through a partnership 97 Milk started last month with Blessings of Hope food pantry due to COVID-19 hardships, use the “donate milk” button, where it says “Help support dairy farmers and community members in need.”

People have been asking for these educational items for milk donation events, farm tours, trade shows, and the like. In the past, 97 Milk would send small quantities of information cards to people, or help them order bulk quantities or explain how to download the files to take to their own local printers to make banners and handouts.

As more requests came in from across the country for handouts, T-shirts, banners and other items, and as 97 Milk is solely dependent upon donations and volunteers for what they accomplish, the best way forward is to give everyone the opportunity to purchase the items easily online.

The new website also has a brand new “For Farmers” area, where producers can find out what to do to start their own 97 Milk chapter.

“We have people interested in forming a chapter for their area, but no new chapters yet,” Behr reports.

She is excited by how the complete overhaul of the 97milk.com website has more than doubled daily online new users since the launch on May 18. The website used to get around 50 new users daily. Now, in the first two weeks since the renewal, it’s been attracting 120 new users a day.

At the same time, the 97 Milk social media pages, such as Facebook, have seen an uptick in new followers and new activity since the website revamp. The Facebook page has amassed 11,500 followers in just 15 months.

“The website now has more milk facts. We have quadrupled the information. Having more written text is what drives google search engines,” Behr says, explaining that with more information available, the website pops up more frequently when people do internet searches – and on a wider variety of topics.

“We are ready to take 97 Milk to the next level,” Behr observes. “We want to continue to be the milk education backbone for other chapters and be a resource for people doing ideas in their own communities — a place they can come for information and materials and to bring ideas.”

The money raised through donations and online orders goes right back into purchasing more educational materials inventory, billboards, and future activities

As 97 Milk evolves, the main mission of “milk education for our community” is the same, and the message is resonating with dairy farmers and with consumers across the country.

Dairy farmers from east to west and north to south are sending in photos and ideas for social media and inquiring about forming chapters. In addition to a how-to guide for forming a chapter, the ‘For Farmers’ tab at the website suggests other ways farmers can help.

Organizers hope to see a nationwide movement and “ripple effect” grow as people collectively participate by doing something, no matter how small it may seem.

“We saw dairy farmers across the nation were ready for a movement like 97 Milk, and consumers are more interested in ever in learning how to support local dairy farms,” says Behr. “That is why we have been successful so far is that we are that bridge between the two.”

In the same way, when people see the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free painted round bales, signs, banners and vehicle magnets, all with 97milk.com emblazoned on them — connections are made, and minds are opened.

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Lancaster event blesses farms and families, 9,296 gal. of whole milk given

Author’s note: There are so many examples of farmers and communities coming together throughout the U.S. to bless one another with nourishment for body and soul during this pandemic. Here is another great story about a grassroots whole milk giveaway in Lancaster, Pa.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, June 5, 2020 (photos by Michelle Kunjappu)

LANCASTER, Pa. — It poured raindrops and milk blessings Saturday, May 22 as the wet weather was no obstacle for volunteers working the Lancaster Whole Milk Giveaway Community Support Event.

Local farmers, businesses, community volunteers — along with Pequea Township Police, New Danville Fire Police, Pioneer Milk Producers Cooperative, Hy-Point Farms Dairy, Clover Farms Dairy and Pennsylvania Miss Agriculture USA — all came together to bless thousands of families in true farm-to-city fashion.

They gave away 9,296 gallons of fresh whole milk during a scheduled five-hour drive-through distribution that began early when cars started lining up three hours ahead of time.

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CK Manufacturing hosted the event in their parking lot just south of Lancaster in Pequea Township, Pennsylvania, where two refrigerated trailers of milk were parked to serve two lines of cars flowing through in two directions.

Organizers said the event was planned to “demonstrate God’s love in support of those in need in our local communities and on our farms in this time of hardship.”

“It is just amazing how much support is out there for the farming community and how many people are in need and want whole milk,” says David Miller about the event he was instrumental in organizing with the help of others. “I had to do something. I had this urge to make something like this happen, and it is unbelievable how it all worked out.”

A member of Lancaster County’s Amish community, Miller works for CK Manufacturing, maker of dairy replacement stalls and other cattle equipment. One of the first people Miller got involved in the idea was the company’s owner Chris King.

“Chris was very supportive, so we pushed forward with it. We wanted to target this to benefit people living in Lancaster city, and our location just outside of town was perfect for that,” Miller relates. “Chris got the Pequea Township Police and New Danville Fire Police involved because we have a lot of traffic on this road, and we wanted to be prepared and to do it right. They were all very supportive and encouraging of what we were doing.”

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Miller also got in touch with Amos Zimmerman of Dairy Pricing Association. “Amos mentioned it on Dairy Pricing’s Monday night call,” says Miller. “As people were hearing about it, many were asking how they could help. It’s unbelievable how fast it came together and how much support is out there to do this.”

They set up a donation account, so other local businesses and individuals could contribute to help purchase the milk. And a nice surprise on the day of the event, some families gave money to pay-forward to help fund future milk donation events.

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Initially, Miller contacted Pioneer Milk Producers Cooperative, a relatively new cooperative made up of mostly Lancaster and Chester County dairy producers. He says they were glad to provide a load of milk, and they had Hy-Point in Delaware bottle it.

The event was advertised in the local paper and on social media, as well as being publicized on the 97 Milk facebook page and twitter.

When the views and comments on social media began growing, Miller realized 5000 gallons would not be enough, so 4000 additional gallons were ordered from Clover Farms Dairy in Reading, Pa.

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“We knew a week ahead that one load was not going to reach around because they were telling us it had over 25,000 views on facebook, which was rather dumbfounding to me,” Miller reports. “Hy-Point couldn’t do a second load that day, so we went to Clover because that’s local milk too.”

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Miller says he was moved to initiate the planning for a milk purchase and giveaway because he knew a lot of milk was being dumped and that people were out of work. He had been watching what others were doing, and he spoke with Mike Sensenig of Sensenig’s Feed Mill for some ideas from their drive-through in April.

“I told everyone from the beginning that if we do this, it’s got to be local whole milk,” Miller says. Those two criteria were also important to the families who came.

Zimmerman reports that many people driving through asked if the milk was whole milk and if it was local. “It felt good to answer ‘yes’ to both questions,” he confirms.

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Miller wanted to provide education about whole milk at the same time, and he knew about 97 Milk and the whole milk flyers Sensenigs had handed out. So, he reached out to GN Hursh, president of 97 Milk LLC board. 97 Milk is a nationwide grassroots effort run by volunteers and donations and founded by dairy farmers in Lancaster and neighboring counties with other areas interested in starting chapters.

Hursh put up some banners and brought handouts.

(In fact, 97 Milk recently revamped the website at 97milk.com  to include a new online store where educational materials can be directly purchased, along with other promotional items.)

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Among the volunteers for the Lancaster event were Cassidy Kuhl, Pa. Mrs. Agriculture USA and her sister-in-law Rebecca, Pa. Teen Miss Agriculture USA. They were all smiles handing out gallons and educational materials.

“This was a great opportunity to be a part of because this is my community we were serving,” said Cassidy. “I was excited to see so many people come for milk and take extra to pass on to their friends, families and neighbors. It felt good.”

From the comments on facebook, it is obvious this meant a lot to the community as well.

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“There were smiles all day long, and some neat stories about people coming in and getting decent quantities to go out and deliver whole milk to people in the inner city – reaching out to people beyond what we were doing,” adds Miller.

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Truly representing the Lancaster community, organizers said the volunteers who showed up to hand out milk included about half from the Amish community and half from the ‘English’ community.

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The help of the fire police was appreciated as the traffic flowed steadily all afternoon and into the evening, and the timing was perfect for the volume of milk. Volunteers report that the last gallon was given right at 7:00 p.m.

To get this together within less than two weeks, and to see this kind of local response has many calling the event an answered prayer, a true farm-city event and a real blessing shared by all in the midst of very challenging times.

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