Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
Study says dairy should aim for climate neutrality, not net-zero carbon. Dr. Frank Mitloehner explains meaningful metric, achievable goal post during webinar
Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Net-zero carbon, net-zero GHG, net-zero GHG footprint, carbon neutrality, GHG neutrality… These terms are being used to describe the dairy checkoff’s 2050 commitments via DMI’s Net Zero Initiative.
But do they consider the warming impact of methane from dairy cows over time?
Bottomline, the so-called “Net-Zero Initiative” of DMI is a set up to be always chasing the cow’s biology without measuring her methane as the flow gas it really is — without considering the short-lived nature of methane and the biogenic cycle cattle are a part of.
If net-zero carbon is the goal, and if methane is measured on carbon dioxide equivalency without considering its short-lived cycle, then dairy farmers could find themselves in the position of unnecessarily and continually chasing the natural biology of their cows without a meaningful and accurate metric and without an achievable goal post that satisfies what all industries around the world are really being asked to do, and that is to limit additional warming.
A new study by foremost animal scientists and air quality specialists Dr. Frank Mitloehner and Dr. Sara Place is calling for the U.S. dairy industry to aim for climate neutrality (net-zero warming) rather than net-zero carbon or net-zero GHG.
The peer-reviewed study from the University of California-Davis CLEAR Center and Elanco Animal Health was published recently in the Journal of Dairy Science. It outlines a path for the U.S. dairy industry to reach climate neutrality by 2041 with small methane reductions every year, and even sooner with more aggressive reductions.
Dr. Mitloehner brought dairy farmers up to date and took questions during the American Dairy Coalition’s annual meeting by webinar in December.
One important take-home message was for dairy producers to understand that how methane’s global warming potential is quantified (whether GWP100 or GWP*) “has a profound impact on the predicted warming of your industry. The only way you can become climate neutral is by using a metric fit for purpose, one that predicts the warming, and that is GWP*,” said Mitloehner.
He explained how methane is an important and powerful greenhouse gas (GHG), but it is different from other gases because it is the only one that undergoes atmospheric removal in a chemical process that takes about a decade. This does not occur for carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide, which are stock gases that remain in earth’s atmosphere for 1000 and 100 years, respectively.
“Methane is the most important gas for agriculture, so its removal must be included in the calculation also,” he confirmed, noting that GWP* does that. “Methane is fast and furious. It has a good punch that is 28 times more trapping of heat from the sun (vs. carbon dioxide), but it is also fast. It doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for long.”
In a slide showing all global methane sources and sinks, Mitloehner noted that nearly 560 terragrams of methane are produced worldwide annually, and at the same time 550 are destroyed by this natural atmospheric process.
In terms of atmospheric growth, “the net is then 10. This is still a number we want to reduce, but it is not 560,” he said.
As the DMI Innovation Center’s Sustainability goals, Net Zero Initiative and FARM program are on the cusp of calculating these things at the farm level, both the measurement and the goal matter.
The GWP100 metric has been around since the 1990s, but it describes stock gases, whereas methane is a flow gas.
Using GWP100 with a net-zero carbon commitment is not only unnecessary, it’s problematic.
“It means the belches from your cows are (being calculated) in addition to what they belched last year, and the year before that, and so forth 10 years from now,” said Mitloehner. “In reality, constant herds are a constant source of methane that generates a constant warming, not a new warming. That’s what the Paris Treaty asks all sectors to do – to limit additional warming.”
Aiming for climate neutrality or net-zero warming instead of net-zero carbon would put the focus where it needs to be — on the warming impact of the emitted methane over time. This is important because methane makes up 62% of the estimated total GHG for dairy, according to the CLEAR Center study.
“If we use GWP100 to describe a relatively constant source, to characterize that methane, then we are overblowing its impact by a factor of 3 to 4, and we are overlooking the ability for the U.S. dairy industry to reduce warming when we reduce methane,” said Mitloehner, citing page 173 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 Assessment Report 6.
The metric GWP-star (GWP*) is also mentioned on this page of the IPCC report. GWP* was developed by the University of Oxford. It is based on GWP100, but it looks at how methane warms the planet over time. It characterizes methane as the flow gas that it is and calculates it based on CO2 warming equivalents (CO2we), not as accumulating CO2 stock equivalents (CO2e).
A white paper published with the peer-reviewed CLEAR Center study explains it this way:
“Net zero carbon refers to a state where carbon is removed from the atmosphere (through carbon sinks or other offsets) at a rate equal to carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. This balance between carbon emission and removal creates a ‘net-zero’ carbon output. Climate neutrality, on the other hand, focuses on temperature impacts from emission sources, referring to the point in which no additional warming is added to the atmosphere.”
The paper goes on to explain how “climate neutrality is analogous to net-zero carbon when dealing with long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, but short-lived pollutants like methane do not need to reach net-zero carbon to be climate-neutral.”
“Is it new and additional carbon being added to the atmosphere? Do constant herds add new warming? No, they do not,” said Mitloehner.
“Belched out methane is the number one source in agriculture, but again, it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for 1000 or even 100 years like carbon dioxide and other GHG,” he explained while also noting the pathway of the carbon in this methane is already present in the atmosphere, is captured by plants, then consumed by cows. Some of this consumed carbon (energy) is converted to carbohydrate and some of it is emitted in the methane by the cow in a continuous cycle.
Unlike fossil fuel emissions, this is not ancient carbon brought out of the ground and into the atmosphere as a one-way-street, he explained: “Do not fall for the people who are comparing cars to cows. The University of Oxford says this is a mischaracterization, and I agree.”
What is exciting, “is if we reduce methane, we can come to a point where we produce negative warming or a cooling effect. That’s what my work is about (Fig. 4). If we do a couple of things to reach no new warming, and if we then get aggressive to go further, we can sell credits as offsets,” said Mitloehner, referencing the implications, limitations and conclusions of the CLEAR Center study.
As innovations related to managing cattle diets are being developed, the good news is emerging tools show the promise of steering more of that carbon, that energy, toward milk yield and components and less of it to methane that is belched back into the cycle.
In contrast, a net-zero carbon or net-zero GHG goal that measures methane as a stock gas (GWP100) and does not accurately describe its warming impact and flow-gas status in the way GWP-star (GWP*) does, would leave dairy farmers needlessly and continually chasing what under the GWP100 scenario are accumulated and continuing belches from their cows.
If the industry continues to chart net zero carbon, will dairy farms be forever chasing their belching cows with tech investments and offsets?
“In my opinion, you will never reach net zero carbon. Your cows will always produce methane no matter how aggressive you are. You will over promise and leave stakeholders disappointed. We are dealing with a biological system, the microbial fermentation in the rumen. It is not feasible and I have advised the industry in the past against it, but that is the direction it goes – in general,” said Mitloehner.
As for unintended consequences on the path to ‘net zero,’ Dr. Mitloehner was clear to say: “What matters is climate neutrality. If you tell the world you want to be climate neutral with no new warming and achieve it through annual reductions of 0.3 to 0.5%, you will indeed be climate neutral in less than 20 years. At a 1% per year reduction in methane, you will accelerate that timeline. But you will never achieve it with GWP100. It’s not possible and not necessary to go that way of treating methane as if it were a stock gas. It doesn’t account for the reduction.”
A piece of good news, he said, is that GWP-star (GPW*) can be used parallel to GWP100. The maitrix is a more scientific predictor of what you (dairy) has to do to bend that curve and how strongly.
“The excel spreadsheet calculator in the white paper helps you identify when in the future as a creamery or a statewide association reach the point that you are no longer creating additional warming, and that should be the goal,” Mitloehner explains.
Net zero carbon or net zero GHG is a setup to always be chasing the cow’s biology without acknowledging her gas is a flow gas, not a stock gas. It does not accumulate. Some will say “you can use offsets” for the cow’s biology. But why? They are not necessary as offsets and could be viewed as solutions if the dairy industry gets its math right. (We’ve seen this movie before)
When food is plentiful, and climate reduction targets kick-in…How do farmers attract the strong public support they need to continue?
By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine
NETHERLANDS — Headlines here in the U.S. indicate the Dutch government is offering buy-out of up to 3000 farms and other so-called ‘peak polluters’ to reduce ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions to bring the country into compliance with EU pledged targets. They say farms will be offered more than 100% of their value to quit, but the value of these farms is now reduced by the reduction targets.
A November 30 article in The Guardian quotes the Dutch nitrogen minister Christianne van der Wal saying “there will be a stopping scheme that will be as attractive as possible,” and that forced buyouts will follow next year if the voluntary measures this year fail.
Some may read these headlines and figure Holland is such a progressive agricultural powerhouse that the number of planned closures is but a dent.
Farms in Holland and around the world are the thin green line. Challenging them with inflated climate data and restrictive targets puts world food security at risk.
Consider that the BBC reported recently that Ireland is also looking at agricultural emissions, namely methane from cattle and sheep, in terms of meeting its Climate Action Plan targets of a 25% reduction by 2030. Estimates vary on how much culling would need to occur to meet these targets, how the methane is measured, and how fast various feed additives can help farms meet new targets. The most glaring concern is how carbon equivalents and methane are measured.
What if you woke up tomorrow and learned that your farm is targeted for similar reductions or closure based on the location of your farm on a map, based on climate targets set by your state or your milk buyer or the federal government, based on making cuts from where you are now — not from where you might have been before whatever improvements you’ve already made?
Baltus farms 170 acres in the village of Schermerhorn with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. They milk 130 dairy cows, grazing in summer and growing corn and collecting fresh grass and dry hay from fields as well.
In July, he reported that his farm is one of the “luckier” ones. He is in a location in North Holland that will have to reduce the amount of nitrogen (or sell cows) by 10 to 15%. Some zones have been designated to reduce by up to 75 to 90%. The percentages are to meet reduction targets, and are not based on what a farm is measured to produce. Building and infrastructure projects can’t move forward without near-term offsets, which is why the situation has reached this extreme point in the Netherlands.
“It feels like the government throws figures in the air, and they wait to see what will happen,” says Baltus. “In my point of view, they try to make farmers worried as a tactic of smoking them out. That’s what you see now. The farms (targeted for higher reductions based on location) nearby the nature areas are getting tired of it, and they sell. I see the last couple of months a lot of farms, nice farms, being sold, and that worries me. If they stop farming, and go abroad, what will be left in Holland?”
He observes that the older farmers stay on the farm until they stop for retirement. “But when the young farmers stop and go abroad — that’s the future leaving. The young farmers are the future. The young farmers don’t want to wait for what is clear and what is going to happen. The problem is now — in the next five years,” he says, indicating a cycle of new targets that never seems to end. “Every time the government throws new figures out. This time it’s the nitrogen, then it’s the water quality, and then it’s the biodiversity, then there is CO2. Every time there comes new regulation, young farmers worry about their future.”
He sees agriculture in his country at a crossroads and warns that if this can happen in Holland, where agriculture is so progressive, it can happen anywhere.
“It could go the right way, and they will begin to appreciate farming in Holland, or it could go the other way, and farming may be over in 10 or 20 or 30 years. My biggest worry is you need some minimum amount of farmers to let the companies behind the farms live. I see it that when you have a feed company, they need a certain amount of farms to deliver their feeding products. When it comes down below some level, they say that is too small for us, and it is a spiral going down. That’s a worry for me, that we make it difficult for too many farmers, and they stop.”
Baltus confirms that the large Dutch farmer protests of the summer have quieted down, but the efforts and periodic protests continue on a different scale. “We are not giving up. We are struggling ’til the end, but it is a hard battle to convince (the government) that this is not the good way to go.
“We also see the farm groups talking to the government. We see the (symbolic) red handkerchief. The Dutch flags turned upside down for a month got attention. The protest is maybe not as loud as it was, but it is still there, and a little spark to the gunpowder barrel, it will explode again,” he says, noting that there are elections in March 2023.
As for the big picture, Baltus describes it as Dutch farmers having to ‘catch up’ quickly to the long-time networks built by the NGOs.
“Farmers have been too long on their own farms, and now you see things changing. Since 2019, when the first farmer protests began, you see farmers are now talking more to the media. They get a better speech to government officials,” says Baltus.
On the other hand, the NGOs, like Greenpeace, and a variety of others, are a small number of people relative to the population of Holland, but they have already been working 20 to 30 years on this. They are well-organized, well-funded, and have people throughout all levels of government and media, he explains.
“We are just now three or four years fighting against that, and it takes a time to change and get that understanding of nature and practice to the government,” Baltus relates, adding that it also takes time for new technologies to come to market that will help farms make further reductions, though European farms are already pretty progressive that way.
Baltus sees European farmers coming together more for each other now — even if their respective governments are not. As other countries in the EU are beginning to experience similar pressures of emissions targets that could essentially reduce dairy and livestock numbers or put farms out of business, solidarity is on the rise among those farmers who are paying attention.
Farming is hard work with a lot of risk, but as Baltus points out, Holland is a good place to farm, with good soil, good logistics, and a good climate for crops and livestock.
“It is one of the best jobs in the world. I love what I do. I want the adventure that every day is different. I like working in nature, working outside,” he says. “When the younger generation doesn’t have to worry about all of the things which are not farming, then they will go to farming because the work is that good. It is only the things that come from outside into the farm that make it hard.”
One part of a future solution is exemplified in something Baltus has done at his farm for 30 years — providing a school on the farm to teach young children how to make cheese and to make jam. His cheese school reaches a few thousand children each year.
“We do it so the children learn how much work it is to make that little piece of cheese and that little pot of jam,” he says. “When they learn the effort that goes into food, they appreciate it more, I think.”
The children get a bucket of milk, and in two hours they go home with a little cheese. They have to turn in 14 days and put on a little salt, and in another 14 days they eat their own cheese. When Baltus started the cheese school 30 years ago, maybe one or two farms did this kind of thing.
Today, more farms are doing similar memorable learning experiences. Baltus sees more farms connecting with the public in recent years. Some have cabins on the farm that they rent to the public. Others provide daycare on the farm, so children can grow up with some real-world attachment to farming. In his neighborhood, there are four farms with daycare.
“The new generation learns what it is to farm, so maybe they will be farming or an advocate. If they go to work as a plumber or a trucker, but as a child lived a few years on a farm at a daycare, it’s good for when they are older, even if they work in other things,” he explains.
“The solution is also that everyone you speak with — say to them what you are doing. When you are at a party or on holiday, say you are a farmer, say how you do things, why you do things — explain it,” Baltus suggests. “People come to appreciate these things when they know about them. There are things (farmers) can do better, but when we explain that we need 5 or 10 years (as technology develops), they accept we’re not perfect but are working to make it more perfect.”
In general, Baltus has found the public has a good opinion of farmers. When he meets someone from the city, they say “Oh, you’re a farmer. That is good of you.” And that’s that. They think well of farmers, but have no reason to worry about food, and therefore don’t make the connection to the impact of the threat the farmers face.
“People have other worries. Do I have a job next year? Can I pay my bills for electricity? Will my children have a good education? But food? There is always food. People will worry about food when there is no food,” he says.
As it stands now in Holland, “What is happening with farms is not really their business. People can go to the supermarket, and most everything they want they can buy there,” Baltus observes, saying he understands this disconnection.
Even if there are changes to the mix of foods available in stores and restaurants, there is no fear of finding food to eat. While Holland is considered a large agricultural exporter, Baltus notes that his country is a net-importer of food when looking at it on a protein and energy needs basis.
“We have the cheese and potatoes and cabbage, but we don’t have the coffee, the cocoa and the citrus. I see it in the way of trading. When that balance is lost, what happens when there is a shortage and we don’t have the cheese or potatoes to export?”
The bottom line, says Baltus, is that “When you are a carpenter or a plumber and there is, every day, food in the supermarket, why would you have to worry about food?
“In Africa, they know food is important. They know what it is like to not have food. But in the western world, there is food everywhere. You can pick up the phone, and in 30 minutes have a pizza on your plate.”
By Sherry Bunting, (Nov. 25 interview has been updated since Thompson’s official caucus election to Ag Committee chairmanship)
WASHINGTON – With Republicans securing a slim majority in the U.S. House after the midterm elections, Congressman Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-Pa.) is preparing to move from ranking member to chairman of the House Agriculture Committee when the 118th U.S. Congress is sworn in for the next legislative session on January 3, 2023.
The House Republican Steering Committee made it official December 7, selecting Thompson incoming Ag Committee Chair, the first from Pennsylvania since 1859.
Outgoing Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) expressed his appreciation to fellow committee members, sharing in a statement: “As I prepare to hand the gavel over to Mr. Thompson… I am encouraged by the bipartisan work we have accomplished together, particularly around our shared interest in broadband and access to USDA programs for our new and small producers. Heading into the 2023 Farm Bill, I am hopeful and prayerful that the collegial spirit will continue and that the Agriculture Committee will be able to deliver a farm bill with strong Republican and Democratic bipartisan support.”
A first order of business for incoming Chairman Thompson is to host his first official 2023 farm bill field hearing on the first Saturday of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, January 7 in Harrisburg.
Thompson has had a long history of holding listening sessions during the Farm Show and bringing with him some committee members from other states. This time, he’ll be looking at a larger venue at the complex, and he’s inviting all Democrat and Republican members of the House Ag Committee as well as prospects.
“The committees won’t be fully populated by then, but the chairmanship will be confirmed,” said Thompson in a recent Farmshine phone interview.
“The most important priority is the on-time completion of the 2023 farm bill as the current farm bill expires at the end of September 2023,” says Thompson. “Certainly, beyond that, we have oversight functions that are really important too.”
One of those areas of oversight, he explains, is the House and Senate Republican request already sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for an audit on “all the pots of money” in USDA that have come through executive actions and the spending in bills passed by the Democrat majority.
“We are asking for this audit because we believe it will be helpful going into the farm bill process to see those funds outside of the baseline,” Thompson explains. “We’ll be following up and looking forward to getting that information.”
In addition to bringing USDA in for oversight within and outside of the farm bill process, Thompson mentioned the leadership will want EPA Secretary Michael Regan to explain the things EPA has been advancing that are creating uncertainty and problems for America’s farmers and ranchers.
Outside of the funding for USDA conservation programs, Thompson says he is “absolutely opposed to making (the farm bill) a climate bill.”
It’s going to be busy in Washington D.C. after January 3, but he says he remains committed to bringing the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act forward again with potential legislative improvements.
“We’ll jump on whole milk right away, but it’s not in the farm bill, and it’s not in the Ag Committee, it’s in the Education and Workforce Committee,” Thompson explains, noting that he will be a senior member of that committee also, and will work with the chairman.
He reports that the Republicans had teed up a version of the childhood nutrition reauthorization last summer in that committee, but their bill and their amendments to allow whole milk and 2% milk in schools and in the WIC program did not make it into the version passed by the House on party lines.
The good news is the House Democrats’ version of the childhood nutrition reauthorization, without the whole milk provisions, also did not advance through the Senate, so it will be a do-over next session.
“Let’s hope the third time is the charm,” says Thompson. “I remain hopeful we can do it through that. My goal is to work hard to get it in as part of that base bill and go from there. We’ll need bipartisan support in the Senate, where the childhood nutrition reauthorization requires 60 votes.”
The Senate remains split down the middle with an edge to the Democrats in terms of committee leadership in the next Congress.
Back to the farm bill priorities, Thompson said protecting crop insurance as well as other crop and livestock protection products like Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) and LGM-Dairy as well as Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and support for DRP are front-burner. Enhancing them — where possible — ranks high on his list.
Along with that, he says the committee is learning from the disaster payments that have been made outside of the farm bill baseline to be looking at how to incorporate more of that relief in a way that provides certainty for farmers and ranchers and for the lenders providing them with access to capital.
Another priority will be to look at the Title I reference prices for commodities.
“With record high inflation, the challenge is not what is paid, but the margin left at the end of the day,” says Thompson.
“There’s really no part of the farm bill that’s ‘unimportant.’ The nutrition help is important to give a hand-up to those in need, and to be using this to provide access to career and technology education so people can rise above their financial struggles,” he explains.
When asked about milk pricing reforms in the farm bill, and the change made to the Class I mover in the previous farm bill, Thompson said: “It’s all on the table. No conclusions have been drawn yet. As we do these listening sessions and hearings, this is where we’ll decide what the tweaks will be to areas of the farm bill.”
Asked what he thinks about the talk coming out of the COP27 in Egypt this week, of the U.S. pledging to pay $1 billion in reparations to other countries for climate impacts – noting that China is being exempted from paying such reparations because of still being defined as a ‘developing’ nation — Congressman Thompson was blunt in his response.
“It is absolutely ridiculous. We should not be paying for that. The United States of America leads the way in the reduction of greenhouse gases, and a big part of that is because of our farmers and ranchers. They are our climate heroes, and they’re not getting enough credit for that, for what they are already doing,” he said.
In a follow up question about the ESG scoring and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rule to track scope 3 emissions back to the farm level, Thompson observes: “Those are political-science driven policies with no place in American agriculture or American finance for that matter.”
When asked about the $11.4 billion in annual funding the President pledged at COP27 for climate transitions in other countries, Thompson added: “We would be funding some of the dirtiest economies in the world. It’s not our role to do that.”
The House controls the ‘purse strings’ so to speak, so this could be a show-down.
Given how CBO scoring of baselines is sometimes a hair-splitting mechanism in a farm bill negotiation, what was implied, without being specifically said by the incoming Chairman, is that some of these climate funds going elsewhere with no accountability might best go to making sure America’s farmers and ranchers have the certainty and backing they need to continue as American food producers. That, in itself, is good for climate and the environment.
SCHERMERHORN, Netherlands — “The honest message is not all farmers can continue their business.” These brutal words were part of the Dutch government’s announcement in June to cut in half the emissions of nitrous oxide and ammonia in a detailed farm nitrogen map of the Netherlands. They’ve given provincial authorities one year to figure out how they will meet their aggressive provincial targets by 2027 as depicted in mapped zones.
This means both livestock numbers and use of fertilizers will be slashed, with the most drastic reductions of 70 to 90% on farms that are close to nature areas, especially those deemed part of Natura 2000, the legally protected habitats across EU member nations.
Ad Baltus is just one of the 40,000 Dutch farmers protesting the plan since mid-June with tractor formations, blockades and other activities in The Hague (capitol) and in towns and rural lands beyond.
They are concerned for their futures, for their farms, families, communities and country.
Baltus and his tractor have been to countless protests throughout the country, accompanied by his faithful dog Knoester. Sharing aerial photos of a formation he helped organize in his own neighborhood, he explains the hashtag in Dutch means #WeStay.
“We are letting our government know we are not going anywhere.”
Baltus farms 70 hectares (170 acres) in the North Holland village of Schermerhorn with his wife and 7-year-old daughter, milking 130 dairy cows. In summers the cows graze, and he also grows corn and collects both fresh grass and dry hay from fields.
“On our farm, we have to reduce the amount of nitrogen or sell cows. That’s a possibility. Or we have to do something with technology to reduce the nitrogen. We have been given only five years from now,” Baltus explains in a Farmshine phone interview Wednesday.
His farm is among the ‘luckier’ ones, in a zone to reduce 10 to 15%.
No future for some
“It depends where they are situated, whether farms are near to nature terrain. Some must reduce between 50 and 70%, and some have to reduce 90%,” Baltus confirms. “In a zone between 70 and 90%, there is no possibility to have an income from your farm. That has a big impact in our farming industry.”
The calculation of nitrogen emissions is made “from what the cows produce inside the stable, and what is being produced when manure is spread over fields and then (from that calculation) is what farms have to reduce,” he says. The use of chemical fertilizers is also part of the calculation.
This is in addition to what the EU is trying to impose in the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork agenda that includes many other manure regulations.
Furthermore, every farm in the Netherlands must have a permit and every farm animal on that farm must be accounted for on that permit, including the horses.
The Dutch government backed up the nitrogen policy with an additional 24.3 billion euro ($25 billion USD) for the transition.
One Dutch news source says the environmental planning agency is recommending payment of 130% of the land and asset value of farmers who stop farming, while other sources point out the base valuation will plummet where the ability to earn income on the assets is now virtually eliminated.
Expecting 30% to sell
By the government’s own estimates, 30% of farmers are expected to sell out or cease livestock and dairy operations, but others see a greater loss coming. Farmers who retire by selling to the government do make space for other farms in their zones to continue with slightly smaller reductions.
For perspective, the Netherlands encompasses a land base a bit larger than the state of Maryland, with 54% of this land reported as agricultural land. There are more than 17 million people with around 40,000 farmers, 3.8 million total cattle, including 1.5 million dairy cows, 11.4 million pigs, 850,000 sheep, 480,000 dairy goats and just about 100 million chickens.
In touting the plan, officials point to the country’s dense population of livestock and its ability to produce more food than is needed within its borders, suggesting that farm exits are not a food security concern. The Netherlands ranks second in the world in agricultural exports worth 94.5 billion euro ($96.8 billion USD) in 2019.
Dutch farmers, however, see this as short-sighted at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other global disruptions are putting pressure on global food supplies. They are vowing to continue their protests.
After weeks of tractor parades obstructing traffic and supermarket food deliveries, Baltus reports ‘public-friendly’ methods are being used to keep the farmers’ concerns visible. For example, wrapped round bales are painted with sad and angry faces with the red handkerchief, the sign of solidarity for the farmer resistance.
He shares a local newscast where another dairy farmer, Sophie Ruiter, 29, from Grootschermer explains the drastic consequences for her farm — that only 60 of her 200 cows could remain.
Turned upside down
“We think it’s really crazy that we are being punished, but a company like Tata (Steel) is given all the time to meet the targets. For us, it means that we have no future,” she says, speaking to the newscaster from behind the wheel of a mobile platform while her friend Robin Groot, holding a bag of Dutch flags, hangs them upside down on lamp posts along a provincial roadway.
Groot describes this as a “public-friendly action. We want to show that all those nitrogen measures have turned the Netherlands upside down.”
“The inverted flag used to be used in shipping as a distress signal, and we now also do that as farmers, because something is really going on,” adds Ruiter.
Removing farms doesn’t solve the problem of pollution, as other industrial complexes produce nitrous and other emissions, and those industries are not being targeted the same way. At the root is concern that “green nitrogen will be replaced by grey nitrogen,” another farmer explains during a tractor formation near a business park where unfair treatment of farmers vs. other industries was highlighted.
Solutions vs. sell-outs
Farm groups say that even though an intermediary has been named for “negotiations,” there are no real negotiations occurring. They say the rapid timeline and high level of reductions signal the government’s unwillingness to look at other solutions, that they just want to cut livestock numbers and buy farms.
“They believe that farms near nature are harming it, but we don’t see it,” says Baltus, sharing comparative photos and discussion.
What kind of nature?
“In Holland there is no nature like in Alaska or Siberia. All of the nature we have is nature that is made by people. The question we ask is what kind of nature do you want? Nature as it was in Holland from 10 years ago, or 100 years ago or 1000 years ago? They don’t give a good explanation for what they want,” he relates.
“In some areas, they want plants and animals that never lived here – not even 10,000 years ago,” he reports. “In Holland, there are nature areas where they got rid of the topsoil to create a kind of nature (or semi-natural ungrazed grassland).”
The NGOs (non-governmental organizations) want to create it with their goal that is very different from the nature that exists, he explains.
Grasslands without grazing?
“The nature near my farm is a nature where cows and grasslands have been for 500 years, and now they say ‘no cows are needed in that area?’ We don’t understand that. Cows and farmers make that terrain, and it is because of farmers and cows that the nature is in there.”
Emissions have been discussed for 10 years. In fact, when milk quotas were lifted and dairy herds grew modestly, phosphate limits were used in 2016 to force herd reductions (see chart). Dairy cow numbers have been relatively stable over the past decade, and on the downswing since 2017. At the same time Dutch agriculture is progressive in technology and farming practices. Many farmers have already made investments in their management of nitrogen.
“We reduced in the past 40 years already 70%, but every time, the government wants more. We have a goal, and they always want more. It is never enough,” Baltus observes.
Like other Dutch farmers, he is proud of the environmental record and productivity of his country’s farms, and the substantial economic benefits they generate for their communities.
A different road
“The farmers are on a different road from the government. On the farmer side, we are thinking solutions, but on the government side, they don’t want to do anything with that. We think in the long run we can reduce more than what’s ahead now, but we need technical solutions, and there are companies in Holland developing technology to separate urine from feces so the nitrogen can be managed even better,” he explains.
A few farms are piloting such innovations, “but it is 2 to 3 years from being ready for practices,” he adds. “We need more time, and the amount of the reduction is much too high, but the government is not taking the innovation as a solution. They want to reduce livestock.”
For its part, the Dutch government maintains it has been “forced” to take this action as court rulings — brought on by activist NGOs — cite the country’s pledges on emissions, and those rulings now block infrastructure and construction projects with no future reductions to offset the emissions these projects would generate. The offsets now come first.
Cutting nitrogen emissions in half by 2030 is on the targets of at least 30 UN member nations with policy bubbling up in other EU nations. In keeping with the 2019 intergovernmental adoption of a UN resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management (Columbo Declaration), such legally binding pledges are now part of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that also affect a nation’s ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) score.
Meanwhile, farmers fear Holland will be the next test-country. They point to what is happening in the first test — Sri Lanka, a small nation off the coast of India that set itself up to be global nitrogen management leader with policies ending use of chemical fertilizers and other measures to meet targets and achieve its high 98.1 ESG score.
This high score mattered little when the reality hit the people in crop failures, farm economic collapse, new levels of food insecurity, which along with economic policies have thrown the country into its worst economic crisis in decades. In recent weeks, Sri Lanken citizens stormed the capitol, the current president fled, and the country is in chaos.
Holland’s plan, according to government documents, is described by officials to bring order and clarity about “whether and how farmers can continue with their business. The (nitrogen) minister sees three options for farmers: become (more) sustainable, relocate or stop.”
This reasoning fuels tensions with farmers who say they are being told to achieve what is unattainable in a short time with few options and no future for their children. In the case of retiring farmers without a next generation, the pathway is clearer, even as the larger concerns remain.
Asked if this feels like a ‘land grab’, if it’s more about land than nitrogen, Baltus was fair-minded and clear.
“Is this about getting the land? Possibly. But we need evidence for that. Thinking in theories or plots is difficult for me as a farmer. Yes, they need land for housing and building, and they want to do nature areas. When the government comes to a farmer, it is like a farmer buying a piece of land from another farmer, you negotiate, but the government is doing it now in a way to get it for a cheaper price,” he relates.
“Yes, the government wants to buy farms to reduce livestock,” he adds. “That is why farmers are angry. The government wants to spend about 25 billion euro to buy-out farmers, while the farmers are asking them to spend 5 billion euro to reduce the same amount of nitrogen with the technology that is coming.’”
Baltus is quick to point out that when farming stops, others are also affected.
“The whole rural area depends on all the farmers, and when there is 20, 30 or 50% of farmers stopping farming, this has an effect on the dairy industry, the feeding industry, all of the rural people who do work on farms, electrician, plumber, contractor… the whole system has big effects.”
Public generally supportive
In general, Baltus sees the public as supportive of the farmers, but he observes a “thin line” of weariness.
“When we protest and people have trouble with that, by waiting in traffic or there is no food distribution, it is difficult to hold the support of the population,” he explains. “We see that the protest is now softening a bit with ‘public-friendly’ actions. But I don’t think protests will stop until the government hears the farmers. If the government doesn’t hear the farmers, then the protests will go on, and not always in a friendly way.”
He sees this issue attracting voters to a relatively new political party, the BoerBurgerBeweging (Farmers and Citizens Movement), which has some representation in parliament.
Expressing little hope for negotiation at this point, farmers say their hope may be a future election landslide depending on how this problem turns out, especially in light of the government’s statements that it has not ruled out the possibility of “expropriating land (forcibly) from farmers who don’t comply.”
Dutch farmers have already complied with many environmental regulations and changes. Farmers want to continue to do more on environmental issues, Baltus affirms: “We have done that for hundreds of years.
My father 50 years ago fed cows differently than I do now, but we need time for changing more, and we need some support to change. Selling out doesn’t help us. It’s the wrong way for the money to flow. We say spend that money for innovation – for more effect with less money.”
“I think the problem in Holland with the farmers and the government, you will see this worldwide,” he suggests. “Just see what is happening in Sri Lanka right now, and in India last year there were big farmer protests.”
He observes farmers in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Italy are protesting in solidarity, with signs “no farmers, no food”, and banners reading “Stop the Great Reset.”
“It is a worldwide problem that we think food is something that is growing in the supermarket. The government, they take it for (granted), but it is a lot of work to make food, and farmers are at the end of the rope when it comes to getting a price for their product. Farming is not so profitable at the moment, but at the same time,” says Baltus, identifying with farmers around the world:
“Many consumers cannot pay more for their food. Between the farmer and the consumer, there are many steps for money to stay in. The very big problem we forget is we live on planet earth with billions of people more than 50 years ago, and every mouth has to have food. We can’t feed everyone with just biological farming or by losing farms.”
The pain is necessary. The transition is unavoidable. The climate pledges are urgent. Race to zero. Net Zero Economy. Sustainable Nitrogen Management. Climate Champions, and on and on.
These are just some of the pages and phrases at the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) website where resolutions are adopted, targets are pledged, sustainable development goals (SDGs) are constructed and updated, and Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) scoring is discussed for countries, cities, corporations, lenders, investors, institutions, states, provinces, networks, alliances, even individuals.
Dairy farmers are being asked to provide more and more of their business operations data, field agronomy, feed and energy purchases, inputs, output, upstream, downstream — a virtual farm blueprint.
While it is important that farmers have a baseline to know where they are and gauge where they are going, it is also critical that such details do not provide a centralizing entity the ability to map them into zones where requirements are passed down by milk buyers, government agencies, industry programs, or lenders deciding farmers in Zone A will be held to one standard while farmers in Zone B are held to another.
Meanwhile, even the most aggressive standard is so trivial in the big picture that it is offset virtually overnight by unrestrained pollution in countries like China where no one is minding the store.
Activist NGOs have struck deals with everyone from the billionaire globalists, activist politicians, industry organizations, corporations and investors to create the world they envision and have invested in for a future return.
They use marketing platforms, global PR firms, thought-leadership networks, pre-competitive alliances, pseudo-foundations and even align with government agencies to flesh out the details and drive the bus.
As producers and consumers, it feels like we are along for the ride.
For example, Changing Markets Foundation, an offshoot of World Wildlife Fund, partners with NGOs to “leverage market forces to drive rapid and self-reinforcing change towards a more sustainable economy.”
It was formed to accelerate this transition.
Just this week Changing Markets published a study taking aim at dairy – warning investors to take a more active role in improving the dairy and meat sector’s “climate impact” by asking these companies, the processors, to disclose their emissions and investments and cut methane and other pollutants.
In other words, the NGOs, through a ‘marketing’ foundation, prods investors to push your milk buyers, lenders and vendors to obtain and track for them your information.
These NGOs and foundations are driving this bus a little too fast, and it needs to slow down. They take countries (like Holland) to court to hold up infrastructure projects, using their own pledged targets against them and forcing a faster timetable to gain the offsets needed for the stalled projects.
They publish self-fulfilling studies, surveys and warnings prodding investors to reach back into the dairy and meat sector and take a more active role in getting more reporting of downstream methane emissions (your farm).
They warn dairy and meat processors that if they don’t get this information and cough it up, investor confidence will be harmed and their assets could be stranded, resulting in large economic losses.
They salivate with anticipation, waiting for land purchase packages that they, as NGOs, can poorly manage as contractors alongside the purchasing government entities.
Let this sink in. The investor class is being deemed the farmer’s new customer – not the consumers whom our farmers are proud to feed and proud to show the truly valuable practices they use in caring for the land, practices that are often not very well monetized – like cover crops, for example.
If a country like the Netherlands with a progressive agriculture industry finds itself in the position that it can’t build or do infrastructure projects without first decreasing nitrogen emissions on the backs of farmers, where do we go from here with the fuzzy math being done on all greenhouse gases in the sidebars of highly-capitalized alternative meat and dairy lookalikes that are lining up — ready to burst on the scene to grab a foothold for investor returns?
The Changing Markets report, in fact, makes the claim that 37% of global GHG comes from food production and attributes most of this to meat and dairy — certainly embellishing the issue in this disingenuous phrasing and fuzzy math.
If farmers can’t be paid for the simplest of constructive practices that produce food for people — while at the same time being restorative to the land, why should billionaires and governments be able to come in and buy their land, plant trees, re-wild to scrub brush or half-hearted grassland status and get an offset?
None of what is happening makes sense unless we step back and recall what we know about the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset, Food Transformation, Net Zero Economy and the realities of so-called ESGs. This has been a process and most of us have only had glimpses of it to connect the dots.
I recall conversations over the years of my journalism career with a most respected ag economics professor, the late Lou Moore at Penn State. He worked with farmers and his peers in former Soviet countries after the breakup of the Soviet Union. He would tell the stories from Ukraine, described to him as handed down through generations of the period of terror and famine known as the Holodomor when the Soviets collectivized the farms of the Ukraine under communism – resulting in the starvation and death of 10 million or more in a transition.
Bottomline: Agenda 2030 has been under construction for some time now, and ‘climate urgency’ is being used today to target farming and food production, not just energy and fuel.
Our industry organizations keep telling us the public, consumers, are driving where this is going, that it is science based, and yet key questions at the farm level still can’t be answered.
At the regional levels, we see authentic models of conservation groups partnering with dairy farms and cooperatives to access grants for meaningful improvements that make financial and environmental sense but may not show up just so on a global NGO’s master sheet.
There are ideas being generated to give companies of all sizes a way to be ‘climate champions’ by investing in Farm Bill conservation programs that really work. Congressman G.T. Thompson mentioned this recently at a farm meeting.
Let’s do the work that accomplishes what’s real and equitable for our farmers and hold off just yet providing too much detailed information.
We know NGOs and governments have set targets to protect 30% of the earth’s surface as non-working lands by 2030 and 50% by 2050. This boils down in the targets at the U.S. level as well.
Let’s be sure we don’t give away the farm.
The strength and diversity of our farmers is so important. You, our farmers worldwide, are the thin green line between us and a Holodomor.
‘Deals with the Devil at Davos’ published in Farmshine June 10, 2022 may have left some readers’ heads spinning. So, let me boil it down to what I see happening: The ramping up of a pervasive global transformation of life itself being leveraged on the masses by the biggest actors in food, energy, capital and policy.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the place where plans are hatched to transform food and energy in the name of sustainable climate and environment. (Great Reset)
This includes goals of setting aside 30% of the earth’s land surface by 2030 for re-wilding and biodiversity – 50% by 2050.
This includes top-tier elite billionaire investor plans to transform food through plant-based and lab-created meat and dairy lookalikes and blends, with the purpose of replacing livestock, especially cattle.
This includes “sustainability” measures being enacted by the world’s largest global food and agriculture companies as the leverage point to position producers and consumers into the headlocks of their vision, their capital, their control.
The bottom line is that the dairy and beef checkoff programs have joined in by creating alliances and initiatives as partners with these WEF actors, including individuals, corporations and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This gives the appearance of a bottom-up approach, when in reality it is top-down, and has been gradually bringing more farm-level decisions and practices in line with what the Davos crowd is cooking up.
The vehicle? Measuring, tracking and controlling carbon.
In other words, controlling energy, food, and land, and with it life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, with a strategy to condition the next generation to accept an alternate reality.
In short, checkoff funds are used at the national level for many things, one key element being dairy transformation to fall in line with the transformation goals of the globalist elites. We can see the business and policy changes that translate to the farm level just beginning amid a void of understanding for the essential role cattle play in true environmental sustainability and the carbon cycle of life itself.
Of all farm and food animals, the life cycle of cattle is tied to the largest land base. Think about that in the context of the land set-aside goals for 2030 and 2050.
Meanwhile, the consumers that the farmers think they are reaching with their checkoff dollars are having their voices stolen by the supply chain actors. On the other end of the spectrum, farmers are also having their voice stolen as their mandatory dollars target the ways they are and may be expected to conform in order to access this narrowing and consolidating supply chain leverage point and the capital to run their farms.
When farmers and consumers talk directly to one another, they find out that they care about the same things and can reach mutual respect and understanding – as long as the WEF’s Klaus Schwab and friends don’t use their position in the supply chain leverage point, the middle, to set the rules of the game.
How are they herding farmers and consumers into headlocks? By transforming the future through their definitions of measuring, tracking and controlling carbon – the essence of life.
These things are happening without voice or vote, and in part, mandatory checkoff funds have been instrumental over the past 12 to 14 years in shaping this transformation through alliances.
Life on earth would not be possible without carbon. It is one of the most important chemical elements because it is the main element in all living things and because it can make so many different compounds and can exist in different forms.
Bottomline: The measuring, tracking, trading and control of carbon means the measuring, tracking, trading and control of life.
Who will have a voice in life when there is a global consortium laying out the control, access and transformation for the essential element of life – never mind liberty, land (property), and the pursuit of happiness.
Most farmers think they are promoting and educating consumers with checkoff funds. Yes, they are to some degree. However, a significant portion of those funds and/or the direction of funding is tied up in sustainability alliances that ultimately redirect the Davos-hatched transformation agenda right back onto the farm.
DAVOS — Let’s follow your checkoff money all the way to Davos, where Klaus Schwab and friends, known as the World Economic Forum (WEF), gather annually in Switzerland. This is where globalist elites have been plotting and planning the net zero economy, complete with food transformation maps.
On May 26, your message was delivered and your future was signed up, with your money through your checkoff programs — a plan 14 years in the making under the DMI umbrella of multiple so-called non-profit foundations and alliances.
Some of the same global actors in the WEF food transformation movement are also represented in the various non-profit alliances that were created by your checkoff in the 2008 through 2012 time-period.
At Davos, the May 26 panel on “redirecting capital in agriculture” is where “farmers voices were heard for the first time,” they said.
Don’t worry, the purpose was to get you the money from Davos billionaires to do all the things they will be requiring you to do to be part of the new net zero economy they are creating with the net zero goal DMI has set for you — despite the fact you didn’t vote on it or sign up for it, and experts can’t even agree on what it means or how it will be measured.
But that’s okay, your checkoff created surveys, sustainability platforms and strategic alliance non-profits to bring the largest processors together “pre-competitively” to set the timelines, plan the parameters, and craft your messages.
DMI “thought leaders” often talk about getting ahead of “societal issues” such as animal care and the environment via the Innovation Center — to avoid regulation. That is the basis of the FARM program, for example.
But the reality is the regulatory side has at least some accountability — a process via our democratic republic if we still have one.
What democratic process was used to determine the rules your farm will live by — as decreed by the corporations buying what you produce, and now also the access to capital you will need to continue?
Consumers have not asked for this, and neither have you. But your checkoff has done it for you and will help you navigate.
DMI issued a press release just a few days before Davos about how the Sustainability Summit they held state-side to help you, the farmer, navigate this new future they have been creating with your checkoff money.
“Never has the opportunity been greater for us to come together and demonstrate our collective impact,” said DMI CEO Barb O’Brien in opening the pre-Davos Summit. “And frankly, never has it been more urgent as we work to meet the growing demands and expectations of both customers and consumers around personal wellness, environmental sustainability and food security.”
These are pretty words.
The press release cites the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment as having 35 companies representing 75% of the milk market signed on. The four pieces DMI is working on were listed in a vague way: 1) utilizing new ‘digital frontiers’ for point-of-purchase ‘strategies’, 2) promoting a new definition of ‘health and wellness’, 3) fulfilling an ‘impact imperative’ they say exists among consumers positioning U.S. Dairy as the leader in addressing societal challenges such as climate change, and 4) targeting ‘inclusive relevance,’ which O’Brien said Gen Z is the driver as the most diverse generation to-date with societal expectations for companies and brands.
Two weeks later, the thought leader representing you in Davos told the gathered elite, the billionaires, the power-centers, that your soil has “perpetual societal value” and should be invested-in and traded as an “asset class,” that farmers are the “eco workforce to be deployed,” and that investors and lenders should “redirect capital” to “de-risk” the investments farmers must make as “climate warriors that are planting the future.”
We missed that memo. Lots of buzz terms here, so let them sink in.
Here’s the reality: Farmers’ voices were NOT heard in Davos. Instead, what was heard was the voices of the WEF billionaires, the WWF supply-chain leveraging model, the string-pullers (thought leaders), and the plan-developers.
We don’t even know all the tentacles behind the pretty words used to describe what you have already been signed up for. Rest assured, DMI will roll them out gradually through the Innovation Center and FARM, and investors, lenders and others will put them in the fine print of farmer access to capital and markets.
It’s more truthful to say the farmers’ voice is being stolen in this process.
Your autonomy, independence and decision-making is being overridden. Your permission is being granted for the WEF Davos billionaires to step right up, help themselves, and determine your options, your future through their investments in a soils asset class — because, climate.
During the WEF panel, it was Erin Fitzgerald who carried “the farmers’ voice” to Davos.
Fitzgerald is CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (name changed in 2020 from the previous U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance). She became the USFRA CEO in 2018 after spending the previous 11 years working for DMI as Vice President of Sustainability and several other roles and titles while the FARM program and net zero framework was being developed. She spoke “for farmers and ranchers” in four sessions at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, including one panel about redirecting capital in agriculture, where she talked about soil as an “asset class” and farmers as the “eco workforce.”
During her comments on the Davos panel about “redirecting capital,” she made it clear that your consumer is “no longer the person at the checkout” in the grocery store. She said it’s the pension fund investors looking for low-risk investments.
Even that is not entirely accurate. The truth is that DMI — in the creation of its many precompetitive alliances — has its sights set on bigger fish: the billionaires at Davos, the venture capitalists, the global corporations investing in climate.
In fact, this is being driven behind the scenes by Edelman, the global PR firm that receives $16 to $18 million in checkoff funds annually as the contractor for DMI over the past decade of plotting and planning. Edelman is a key player at Davos. GENYOUth was the Edelman brainchild, and outgoing CEO Alexis Glick was originally tapped by Richard Edelman, himself, to lead GENYOUth as a former financial analyst who made Davos a high point of her itinerary.
Back to the WEF panel on May 26 — the messages that have been crafted were touted, along with a narrative about what you will do in the next 30 harvests as the “eco workforce” of the “new global net zero economy.”
Listening to some of the livestreamed sessions, other panels highlighted the future of food, energy and financing to all be rooted in carbon impact.
Some panels noted the fast pace of the WEF global transformation is creating inflation pain, but the globalist elites are not concerned, even saying “that’s a good thing.”
Other panels delved into individual carbon tracking, to measure, record and score what each one of us eats, where we go, how we get there.
Truth be told, consumers are also being signed up for the net zero economy, although most don’t even know it yet. In a free America, I’m not sure we voted on this global-control-fast-track either.
Fitzgerald, whose role is described as “building sustainable food systems of the future,” laid it out for the crowd of investors, corporations, regulators, and government officials.
On the Davos stage, she said she brought the farmers’ message and referred specifically to the DMI board chair as “my chair Marilyn, a farmer from Pennsylvania.” (Marilyn Hershey also sits on the USFRA board.)
In the ‘redirecting capital’ discussion, another layer of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) model of leveraging the few players in the middle of the food supply chain to move consumers and producers at both ends was very much in play.
This is not surprising. The DMI alliance with WWF also spanned a 12-year period from 2008 to 2020 when all of these non-profit alliances were formed under the DMI umbrella to bring global processors together as a platform for “pre-competitively” determining how all farms will operate in the future.
Your innovation and hard work were mentioned, but no credit was given to where you are, what you already accomplish, as farmers. It is all forward-looking to annually “make progress” over “the next 30 harvests.”
The stage was set for farmers to see capital “redirected” to de-risk certain types of operations and to make the soil you farm an “asset class.”
“We officially have our first solution,” declared the Davos panel moderator, turning to the panelist sitting beside Fitzgerald, saying “that’s your area, let’s do it.” Who was this panelist? None other than David MacLennan, the board chair and CEO of Cargill, and a former member of the Chicago Board of Trade and Board of Options Exchange.
Think about this for a moment. Soil as an asset class dovetails nicely with the 30 x 30 land grab, another WEF / WWF / Great Reset / Build Back Better invention.
Lured by money or financing, the soil you farm — if it becomes a tradable asset class with financing channeled to certain practices begs this question: Whose land does it become and what will be your accountability through the Security and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for disclosures? Farm Bureau is already sounding the alarm on proposed rules about supply chain producers being an open book to the SEC for claims made by companies buying their raw commodities.
More importantly, who will make the decisions on your farm? Fitzgerald asked the audience to “put aside the term ‘farmer’ and think about ‘these people’ as the “eco workforce.’”
Your voice, through your checkoff, just went into the den of thieves to offer your land, your future, your autonomy — as a farmer, rancher, landowner, generational steward of God-given resources in your community — and put it on a silver platter for the Davos global elites under the feel-good message of farmer as climate warrior, an eco workforce planting the future in the net zero economy.
They said your voice was heard, your story was told, and they’ll get you the investment funds for projects. In “thinking about soils as a perpetual asset to society,” Fitzgerald said investors can do what was done for the renewable energy sector in 2008 to “prop it up and get it moving.”
“This eco workforce has boots on the ground,” she said. “They have every bit of capability, but they’re going to be battling the real effects of disrupted markets and climate change, and they also have unbelievable talent. Our farmers are doing amazing work as climate eco warriors. Are we as business agents of change here at Davos really creating the finance models to de-risk their investment to let them plant the future and be the eco warriors they can be in the fight on climate change?”
More pretty words that might sound inspiring to some, until we pull back the layers and realize deals are being made with the devil.
‘Preponderance of evidence’ screams for a Dietary Guidelines course-correction to expand flexibility and increase, not reduce, saturated fat limits as well as to examine the nutrient deficiencies of currently approved dietary patterns in all life stages, and to examine the effects of these overly-prescriptive one-size-fits-all patterns on vulnerable populations in government feeding situations such as children obtaining most of their nourishment at school where DGAs rule.
Editorial opinion by Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 6, 2022
Recently, USDA and HHS launched the 2025-30 cycle of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Trouble is, the first and undeniably most important part of the process that will shape WHAT can be amended and the research-screening process for doing so are the “scientific questions” to be examined.
A paltry 30-day public comment period about these already-prepared questions was announced April 15 and expires May 16, 2022.
By the time you read this, there will be fewer than 10 days to comment. To read the USDA HHS proposed scientific questions, click here and to submit a comment to the docket, click here
In addition to the links above, comments can be mailed to Janet M. de Jesus, MS, RD, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), HHS; 1101 Wootton Parkway, Suite 420; Rockville, MD 20852. Be sure to reference HHSOASH-2022-0005-0001 on the submission.
Lack of time to comment on the questions is not the only problem with the 2025-30 DGA launch. The commenting instructions state: “HHS and USDA will consider all public comments posted to Regulations.gov in relation to the specified criteria. Comments will be used to prioritize the scientific questions to be examined.”
These instructions do not leave much opening to amend the already-prepared scientific questions.
I encourage others to join me in requesting an extension of this comment period to 90 days and to open the process into a course-correcting complete re-evaluation of saturated fat limits — to drive home the point that the “preponderance of evidence” screams for higher, more flexible, saturated fat limits (especially for children), to review the science on saturated fat consumption at all life stages on not only cardiovascular health, but also weight management and diabetes, cognitive health, and other areas, including how current saturated fat limits affect under-consumption of essential nutrients, how these limits affect school meal patterns where most children receive most of their nourishment most of the year — considering the 2020-25 DGA Committee admitted the three government sanctioned dietary patterns are deficient in key nutrients of concern for all age groups.
Join me in asking USDA and HHS to educate the public about the true impact of the DGAs on our most vulnerable populations (children and the elderly) and to avoid prescriptive one-size-fits-all dietary patterns.
People don’t seem to pay much attention to the DGA process because there has been no full disclosure of the true impacts of these so-called “guidelines.” People say, oh, they’re “just guidelines.” Maybe that’s true for you and I, but what about the children? What about the elderly? They are under the ruthless thumb of USDA HHS DGA implementation in feeding programs for America’s most vulnerable ages and demographics.
The ink is barely dry on the 2020-25 DGAs, leaving many to believe there is plenty of time to comment on the next round — later — when the process is fully underway. After all, USDA reminds us this is a five-step process, and they are “committed” to providing plenty of opportunities to be heard.
Wrong. This first step is in many ways the most important for public comment because it shapes how the other four steps unfold. It shapes what research will be screened in and out of the process. It shapes what areas of the DGAs can be amended and specific criteria for how they can be amended — no matter how earthshaking a dietary revelation.
This first step also shapes how your future comments will be considered. For example, many comments, even research in the screening process, will be ignored as this 2025-30 DGA cycle unfolds when it is deemed to fall outside of the specific criteria set in the scientific questions of step-one — right now — for this 2025-30 cycle.
USDA and HHS have already formulated the 2025-30 “scientific questions,” leaving most of the failed guidelines ‘base’ pretty much moving forward — as-is.
One area the Departments announced will run parallel is on ‘planetary diets.’
The USDA HHS announcement notes that the 2025-30 DGAs won’t incorporate DIRECTLY any ‘climate-related’ dietary recommendations, stating: “Sustainability and the complex relationship between nutrition and climate change is an important, cross-cutting, high priority topic that also requires specific expertise. HHS and USDA will address this topic separate from the Committee’s process to inform work across the Departments.”
That’s about as clear as mud. In this statement, USDA seems to tie nutrition and climate change together with the term “cross-cutting,” and describes the “relationship” as a “high priority topic,” assuring us that USDA and HHS will handle this separately and then “inform.”
After looking through the scientific questions in the areas of systematic review and dietary patterns, below is my citizen’s comment:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
To use the phrase you used repeatedly in a Congressional hearing about the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines, the ‘preponderance of evidence’ on saturated fat limits for all ages — and for children and adolescents in particular — should be up for a complete re-evaluation in the 2025-30 DGAs.
Study after study show our government-sanctioned dietary patterns are failing our children who receive most of their nourishment at school under the thumb of USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines. USDA even threatens to financially penalize any school that dares make nutritious, wholesome, satiating, healthful whole milk available — even for students to buy from a vending machine run by an FFA chapter seeking to raise funds for agriculture programs, simply because the calories and percent of calories from saturated fat in that nutrient-dense superior beverage exceed your arbitrary, unscientific DGA limit.
But that’s okay, say the HHS USDA DGA, just have a Mountain Dew Kickstart or a sugar-free Gatorade Zero. PepsiCo thanks you, dear USDA, for caring about the profitability of the Smart Snacks empire they and others have built on your say-so, while children become fatter, sicker and sadder and under-consume key nutrients for health and brain power.
Meanwhile, farmers wonder what on earth they can do to get the nutritious, natural, beautiful, local whole milk product they produce to the children in need of nourishment at school, while doctors bemoan under-consumption of nutrients of concern like calcium, vitamin D and potassium (abundant in milk, better absorbed with the fat).
Even the 2020-25 DGA Committee admitted that all three dietary patterns leave all age groups deficient in key nutrients. That’s okay, just get in line for our vitamin pills, right?
It’s even more concerning to see the diets in reality are even worse than they are on paper, if that’s possible, as students pass-over the obligatory skimmed milk in favor of big-brand junk drinks devoid of nutrition, or they take the skimmed milk and toss it into the trash.
USDA’s own study in 2013 showed that in the first year after the Smart Snacks regulations tied competing beverages to the DGAs — outright prohibiting whole milk and 2% milk from schools — student selection of milk fell 24%, and the amount of milk discarded by students increased by 22%. Other studies since 2012 show milk is among the most frequently discarded items at schools. World Wildlife Fund issued a report saying one way to reduce this waste is to educate schools on the fact that they are not forced to serve milk, they can offer it and educate students not to take the milk if they aren’t going to drink it.
What does that solve? It still leaves children and youth without the nourishment USDA touts in the school lunch program on paper even as the school meal situation has become an increasingly restrictive maze of fat limits and thresholds that schools give up managing it and leave it to the ‘Big Daddy’ institutional foodservice corporations with their pre-packaged, highly-processed deals that come with ‘USDA compliance guarantees.’
Why is the Biden Administration fast-tracking this agenda? There are four bipartisan bills before Congress dealing with school milk and others dealing with childhood nutrition. There are bills about allowing whole milk in schools at the state level in Pennsylvania and New York, with lawmakers in at least two other states watching closely to perhaps do the same.
The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to repeal your whole milk prohibition has 93 cosponsors in 32 states. City schools, rural schools, town mayors, boards, teachers, parents, coaches, dieticians, doctors, nurses, farmers — people from all walks of life — and, yes, food and nutrition scientists are increasingly appalled at the school milk and school lunch issues — all under the thumb of the DGAs.
The DGAs are designed in a way that each 5-year cycle builds on the one before it — since 1990! The scientific questions are formulated to keep moving that way instead of looking back and re-evaluating or re-examining nutritional aspects USDA considers ‘settled science.’
In reality, however, there is nothing settled about the DGA ‘science’ on saturated fat. This build-upon process is flawed.
In fact the ‘preponderance of evidence’ would tell us the process should be opened up for a more thorough and reflective review, toward more flexible saturated fat limits — especially to expand overly-restrictive saturated fat limits that are creating concerns for children and youth and, in effect, keep nutrient-dense whole milk and 2% milk, as well as full-fat dairy products out of schools. By these standards, the DGAs actually embrace artificially-created highly processed beverages and foods — even Impossible Burger over Real Beef.
The preponderance of evidence is undeniable. The DGA saturated fat limits are a straight-jacket for schools, imprisoning children into poor nutritional health outcomes that can stay with them the rest of their lives and may affect their abilities to learn. Our future as a nation, the health of our children, the economic standing of our food producers, our nation’s food security, our national security itself are all rooted in these DGAs that are still centered on false narratives about saturated fat that the preponderance of evidence has disproven.
Please extend this comment period to 90 days and expand the input considerations and the process, especially as relates to saturated fat limits for all life stages and evaluate the current patterns for under-consumption of nutrients of concern for all life stages. Simply amending a failed base product is unproductive at best and creates more negative health consequences at worst. We need a DGA course correction, a re-do, rigorous scientific debate, acknowledgment that the science is not settled against fat with the preponderance of evidence moving toward the healthfulness of dietary fat.
Finally, we need a Dietary Guidelines product that serves more broadly as just that — guidelines — not a prescriptive one-size-fits-all straight-jacket that obviously is failing the majority of Americans.
Public discussion about the process is needed in a more open, thoughtful, comprehensive manner before the 2025-30 DGAs get underway.
‘Climate neutrality, not net zero carbon, should be dairy’s goal.’
By Sherry Bunting
‘Net zero’ seems like a simple term, but it’s loaded, according to Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist with the Department of Animal Science at University of California-Davis.
He firmly believes dairy can be a climate solution, but the first step is to accurately define dairy’s contribution to the climate problem. Setting the record straight is his prime focus, and he also researches ways dairy, like every industry, “can do our bit to improve.”
Presenting on what ‘net zero’ really means for dairies, Mitloehner answered questions during the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) annual business meeting in December, attended by over 150 producers from across the country via webinar.
Based in Wisconsin, ADC is a national producer-driven voice with a regionally diverse board. President Walt Moore, a Chester County, Pennsylvania dairy producer, welcomed virtual meeting attendees, and CEO Laurie Fischer shared a federal dairy policy update.
She said the ADC board is nimble, moves quickly, and wants to hear from fellow dairy farmers. She encouraged membership to make ADC stronger and shared about the organization’s federal policy focus in 2021 — from pandemic disruptions and assistance, Federal Order pricing, depooling and negative PPDs to real dairy label integrity, whole milk choice in schools, and farmers’ questions and concerns about dairy ‘net-zero’ actions.
“Too often, farmers think they may not understand something, so they don’t speak up,” said Fischer. “But we get calls and so much great advice from our farmers. We know you get it, you know it, because it is happening to you.”
From this farmer input, the net-zero topic became the ADC annual meeting focus.
“We are rethinking methane, and this is influencing and shaping the discussion,” Dr. Mitloehner reported. He urged producers to use the information at the CLEAR Center at https://clear.ucdavis.edu/ and to do better networking, to have a better presence on social media.
This is necessary because the activists are well-connected, and methane is the angle they use in their quest to end animal agriculture. He said Twitter is a platform where many of these discussions are happening. His handle there is @GHGGuru and the Center is @UCDavisCLEAR.
“This is something I have told the dairy industry. They say ‘net-zero carbon’, but they shouldn’t say that because it is not possible, and it is not needed. We need to be saying ‘net-zero warming’. That’s the goal. Then, every time you reduce methane, you instantaneously have an impact that is inducing a cooling effect,” said Mitloehner.
‘Climate neutrality’ is the more accurate term he uses to describe the pathways for U.S. dairy and beef. But it requires getting accurate information into policy in a fact-based way.
It requires arming people with the knowledge that the constant and efficient U.S. dairy and livestock herds produce no new methane, that they are climate-neutral because not only is methane continuously destroyed in the atmosphere at a rate roughly equal to what is continuously emitted by cow burps and manure, that process involves a biogenic carbon cycle in which the cow is a key part.
One of the issues is how methane from cattle is measured, he said. Current policy uses a measurement from 30 years ago that fails to acknowledge the carbon cycle and ‘sinks’ alongside the ‘emissions.’
Mitloehner said accurate information is beginning to change the narrative. This is critical because methane is the GHG of concern for dairy, and the narrative about it has been incomplete and inaccurate.
As a more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, methane becomes the ‘easy’ target to achieve the warming limits in the Paris Accord. Methane was the focal point of ‘additional warming limits’ during the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November.
Putting together the inaccurate narrative alongside international agreements to specifically reduce methane, it becomes obvious why cattle are in the crosshairs. Producers are already in the middle of this in California as methane regulation and carbon credit systems began there several years ago.
As the narrative is beginning to change, Mitloehner sees opportunities. He described the current California ‘goldrush’ of renewable natural gas (RNG) projects where large herds both in and out of state cover lagoons to capture and convert biogas into RNG. The state’s investments and renewable fuel standard provide a 10-year guarantee with the RNG companies typically owning the offset credits that can be traded on the California exchange from anywhere.
Getting the numbers right is mission-critical
“We are far and away an outlier because of our efficiency in the U.S with all livestock and feed representing 4% of the GHG total for the U.S,” Mitloehner confirmed. “Dairy, alone, is less than 2% of the U.S. total.”
This is much smaller than the 14.5% figure that is thrown about recklessly. That is a global number that includes non-productive cattle in India as well as the increasing herds in less efficient developing countries. This number also lumps in other things, such as deforestation.
He said the true global percentage of emissions for livestock and manure is 5.8%. Unfortunately, activists and media tend to use the inflated global figure and conflate it with these other things to inaccurately describe the climate impact of U.S. dairy and livestock herds as 14.5%.
The efficiency of U.S. production and the nutrient density of animal foods must be part of the food and climate policy equation.
Methane is not GHG on steroids
“Without greenhouse gases, life on earth would not be possible because it would be too cold here,” said Mitloehner. “We need GHG, but human activity puts too much into the atmosphere, and the toll is large concentrations.”
The way all GHGs are measured has to do with their intensity as determined 30 years ago when scientists wanted one global warming potential (GWP) unit to compare cows to cars to cement production and so forth. They came up with GWP100, which converts methane to CO2 equivalents based on its warming potential.
Methane traps 28 times more heat than CO2, but it is short-lived, Mitloehner explained.
“Looking just at the warming potential, you get this idea that methane is GHG on steroids and that we need to get rid of all of it and all of its sources,” he said.
But is this the end of the methane story? No.
Sinks and cycles must count
Mitloehner described how ‘methane budgets’ look at sources and their emissions but ignore the carbon sinks that go alongside and ignore the chemical reactions that result in atmospheric removal of methane as well.
“Plants need sunlight, water, and a source of carbon. That carbon they need comes from the atmosphere to produce oxygen and carbohydrates,” he said, explaining how cows eat the carbohydrates and convert them to nutrient dense milk and beef. In that process, the rumen produces methane.
“Is this new and additional carbon added to the atmosphere? No it is not. It is recycled carbon,” he said.
“Say you work off the farm. You drive and burn fuel, adding new CO2 in addition to the stock in the atmosphere the day before. Stock gases accumulate because they stay in the environment. Currently, agencies treat methane as if it behaves the same way. But methane is a flow gas, not a stock gas. It is not cumulative,” said Mitloehner.
If the same farm has 1000 cows belching today and 1000 belching 10 years ago, those 1000 cows are not belching new methane because in 10 years it is gone from the atmosphere. It is cyclical.
“The take-home message is the carbon that our constant livestock herds produce is not new carbon in the atmosphere. It is a constant source because similarly to it being produced, it is also destroyed. The destruction part is not finding its way into the public policy system… but it will in the future,” he predicts.
Methane drives Paris Accord and COP26
Methane targets are driving intergovernmental agreements wanting to limit the “additional warming impact” of nations and industries.
Currently, cattle are viewed as global-warmers because they constantly emit methane. However, as Mitloehner drilled numerous times, this is not new methane, it is not additive, it is not cumulative. It is recycled carbon.
“If you have constant livestock herds, like in the U.S., then you are not causing new additional warming,” said Mitloehner.
Burning fossil fuels is much different.
“Fossilized carbon accumulated underground. Over 70 years, we have extracted half of it and burned it, so where is it now? In the atmosphere. We added new and additional CO2 that is not a short-lived gas. It is a one-way street from the ground into the air,” he explained.
The problem for dairy and beef producers is their cattle are being depicted as though their emissions are additive, cumulative, like fossil fuels, which is not true, he said.
Signs the narrative is changing
One promising sign that the message is getting through has come from Oxford researchers acknowledging the constant cattle herds in the U.S. and UK are not adding new warming.
They acknowledge the GWP100 “grossly overestimates” the warming impact of cattle and are working on a new measurement that recognizes constant cattle herds are not adding new warming, said Mitloehner.
Another promising sign is that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a statement recently acknowledging that the current GWP100 overblows the warming impact of cattle by a factor of four. This new information is not in current policy, but it is making its way there.
Tale of two bathtubs
Mitloehner believes it is important to visualize climate neutrality. He described two bathtubs. One has a CO2 faucet with no drain, the other a methane faucet with a drain. Open the faucets, and even at a slow and steady rate, the CO2 bathtub continues to rise, while the methane bathtub drains as it fills to remain at a constant level.
He also explained that over the past 200 years the U.S. hasn’t seen any real change in that methane bathtub because prior to settlement in America, 100 million ruminants — buffalo and other wild herds — roamed. Today, there are around 100 million large ruminants in the U.S. dairy and beef industries.
What has changed is the U.S. does have more liquid manure lagoon storage that is producing more methane than solid manure storage. “But we know of ways to further reduce that,” he said.
Mitloehner pointed out how the current GWP100 poorly estimates the warming impact three example scenarios. If, over 30 years, methane is increased 35% from a source, or reduced 10%, or reduced 35%, the GWP100 would show significant continuous addition of cow-sourced methane in CO2 equivalents for all three scenarios because the destruction of the methane – the drain that operates with the faucet – is ignored.
The proper way to look at this, if the methane increased a lot, is that it would add a lot. But if it is balanced, then there is no new or additional warming. And, in that third scenario, he said, “where we pull a lot from the atmosphere when we reduce methane, it has the same impact as growing a forest.”
Bottom line, said Mitloehner, “We can be a solution and take it to the market and get paid for that,” but current policy does not yet reflect the neutral position of the constant and efficient U.S. herd.
Bullish about the future
‘Net zero’ is a term that is not yet clearly defined, said Dr. Frank Mitloehner several times during the American Dairy Coalition annual meeting by webinar in December. He sees the real goal as “climate neutrality,” to communicate the way constant U.S. dairy herds contribute “no additional warming,” in other words “net zero warming.”
The climate neutrality of U.S. cattle must be part of public policy, he said. Only then will dairies truly be on a path to marketing their reductions as ‘cooling offsets.’
Mitloehner, a University of California animal scientist and GHG expert is bullish about the future of “turning this methane liability into an asset, so if we manage toward reducing this gas, we can take that reduction to the carbon market,” he said.
“When we hear ‘net zero’, we think about carbon, but that would mean no more GHG is being produced, and that is not possible. I have told the dairy industry this for years. Why is (zero GHG) not possible? Because cows always belch, and we can’t offset that, and furthermore, we do not need to offset that because it is not new methane,” said Mitloehner.
On the other hand, “If we replace beef and dairy made in the U.S., this does not create a GHG reduction at all. This is because we are the most productive and efficient in the world,” he said.
Just stopping beef and dairy production here in the U.S. — and picking up the slack by producing it somewhere else or producing something else in its place — creates ‘leakage.’ This leakage, he said, is where the biogenic carbon cycle becomes disrupted. In other words, the bathtub has a faucet that is out of sync with the drain.
California’s RNG ‘goldrush’
Mitloehner touched on the strict California standards that mandate a 40% reduction of methane be achieved by the state by 2030. Again, methane is targeted because of its warming potential per the Paris Accord.
The good news, he said, is California is using incentives to encourage covering manure lagoons to capture a percentage of the biogas bubble so that it doesn’t go into the atmosphere but is trapped beneath the tarp and converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) that can be sold as vehicle fleet fuel to replace diesel.
Because this RNG comes from a captured and converted methane source, it is considered a most carbon-negative fuel in the state’s low-carbon fuel standard.
Those credits equate to $200 per ton of CO2 replaced with a carbon-negative renewable, said Mitloehner.
“This is a huge credit. This is why dairies are flocking to get lagoons covered to trap and convert. These credits are guaranteed for 10 years in California, but the anti-agriculture activists are fuming over them,” said Mitloehner.
Of all California investments made toward achieving the 40% methane reduction goal, dairy has received just 3% of funds, but has achieved 13% of reductions so far.
This “carrot” approach has incentivized the biogas RNG projects assuming $4000 income per cow, making an estimated $1500 to $2000 per cow per year on a 10-year California fuel standard guarantee.
Mitloehner noted that the carbon intensity of the reduction is presently viewed as greater when RNG is used in vehicles vs. generating electricity, but right now there is not enough RNG suitable for vehicle use. He sees the fuel use increasing in the future and explained that dairies anywhere can sell into the California market if they capture biogas and convert it to RNG.
The state’s 10-year guarantee has stimulated companies seeking to invest in RNG projects on large dairy farms, where they then own or share the credits.
Mitloehner answered a few questions from producers about the caveats. If the bottom and top of the lagoon are covered, what happens to the sludge that accumulates? He acknowledged there is no satisfactory answer to that question presently.
Another drawback is the technology only works for larger dairies because smaller lagoons won’t have the same breakeven. Community digester models are emerging as well, he said, but they also use clusters of large farms working together.
Soil carbon sequestration
Mitloehner cited soil carbon sequestration as a way dairy farms of any size can be a solution.
It’s the process by which agriculture and forestry take carbon out of the air via the plant root systems that allow the soil microbes to take it into the soil — unless the soil is disturbed by tilling or it is released through fires. With good forest and grassland management, as well as low- and no-till farming practices, carbon can be sequestered to stay in the ground forever, according to Mitloehner.
“Agriculture and forests are the only two ways to do this,” he said, adding that USDA seeks to incentivize practices that take and keep more of the atmospheric carbon in the soil.
Answering questions from producers, he noted that he has not yet seen a scheme that would incentivize soil carbon sequestration through marketing offsets, but the discussions are heading in that direction.
“Many of the environmental justice communities are running wild on this. They do not want farmers to get any money for it. They are putting on significant pressure and threatening lawsuits, so it’s not settled yet,” he reported.
There is also a lot of confusion around soil carbon sequestration and “regenerative” agriculture. One big problem is that producers who are doing some of these things, already, won’t get the opportunity to capitalize on those practices when offset protocols are eventually developed — if those practices are not deemed “additive.”
“If you are doing something now and are not covered by a policy of financial incentive, then four years from now, if it is developed, they’ll say you don’t qualify because you are already doing it,” said Mitloehner.
“They are calling it ‘additionality.’ It’s about the change to doing it to qualify. That seems crazy, but it’s like if you bought an electric vehicle 10 years ago when there was no tax credit, you don’t get a tax credit now for already owning an EV because the improvement is not ‘additional,’” he explained.
What about the burps?
For farms with under 1000 cows, other technologies like feed additives can be used on any size dairy with effects realized within a week, said Mitloehner, noting one product that is commercially available and several others on the docket.
If a 10 to 15% reduction can be achieved in enteric (belching) methane reduction, then it will be marketable. Right now, these reductions are not marketable. If an offset protocol is developed for this in the future, it will be taken to the carbon market, he said.
In the meantime, incentives are being offered within supply chains, according to Mitloehner. Companies like Nestle, Starbucks and others are doing pilot projects and buying feed additives for the farmers within their supply chains to reduce their products’ GHG. He said there is some evidence these products can enhance components and feed efficiency. This is a big area of research right now.
A question was also asked during the webinar, wondering about Amish farms using horses instead of tractors. Are they contributing to cooling?
Mitloehner replied that he has not yet seen a calculation for this, and while the impact of horses would be less than the impact of burning fossil fuels, there is still an environmental impact to calculate.
Since the international focus is on ‘additional warming impact’, methane is – like it or not — the target. Whether a dairy farm is managed conventionally or in the Amish tradition, the cows, the methane, and how governments and industry measure the ‘additional warming impact’ of cow-sourced methane, is still the crux of the issue for all dairy farms. If efficiency is reduced, then the ability to position the dairy farm as ‘cooling’ may be more complicated, or less significant, he said.
In addition to accurate definitions that acknowledge climate neutrality of constant cattle herds producing no new methane, Mitloehner’s wish is for federal policy to also take productivity (and nutrient density) into stronger consideration when evaluating emission intensity “instead of just counting heads of cattle.
“This can be good for large or small dairies with a high or low footprint. When the relative emissions are determined by how you manage the dairy, the hope is that this is more about the how than the cow.”
In that same June 2019 hearing, animal scientist and greenhouse gas emissions expert Dr. Frank Mitloehner of University of California-Davis explained the methane / CO2 ‘biogenic’ cycle of cows.
He said that no new methane is produced when cow numbers are “constant” in an area because methane is short-lived and converts to CO2 in 10 years time, which is then used by plants, cows eat the plants, and the cycle repeats.
Dr. Mitloehner also said that this cycle changes when cattle concentrations move from one area to another.
The milk produced and bottled in the Northeast and Southeast milksheds is not just carbon neutral, it’s already carbon negative, producing not just no new methane, but less than prior-decades’ methane.
Bear in mind, these new dairy-‘based’ — blended — beverages are NOT Class I products. I have been informed that the 50/50 blends, for example, do not meet the standard of identity for milk, nor do they meet the milk solids profile that requires Class I pricing. This means that even though milk is part of a fluid dairy-‘based’ beverage, it is not priced as Class I.
The milk used in these emerging products that combine ultrafiltered solids with water, additives and maybe an almond or two, fall into Class IV, some are Class III if whey protein is used. Examples include products like DFA’s Live Real Farms ‘Purely Perfect Blend‘ that arrived recently in Pennsylvania and the greater Northeast after its first test-market in Minnesota.
Think about it. Unity is great on many levels, and is to be encouraged in an industry such as dairy, but when it comes to marketing, who is calling the shots for future viability within the DMI integration strategy, otherwise known as unity?
Pre-competitive alliances and ‘proprietary partnerships’ working on food safety are wonderful because all companies should work together on food safety. But animal care? Environment? Climate? Why not just offer quality assurance resources and pay farmers certain premiums for investing as companies would like to see and pay them for providing the consumer trust commodity — instead of implementing one-size-fits-all branches in programs like F.A.R.M.?
These so-called voluntary programs have the power to negate contracts between milk producers and their milk buyers even though consumer trust is a marketable commodity that producers already own and are in fact giving to milk buyers, and their brands, without being compensated.
Instead, producers are controlled by arbitrary definitions of the consumer trust commodity that the producers themselves originate. This goes for Animal Care, Worker Care, Environment, and Climate.
The pre-competitive model used in food safety is applied to all four of the above areas today. This is exactly the supply-chain model World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — DMI’s ‘sustainability partner’ — set in 2010 to “move the choices of consumers and producers” where they want them to go.
In the 2019 Senate hearing referenced at the beginning of the above op-ed, Dr. Mitloehner stated that the mere fact there are 9 million dairy cattle today compared with 24 million in 1960 and producing three times more milk shows that dairy producers are collectively not only emitting zero new methane, they are reducing total methane as old methane and carbon are eradicated by the carbon cycle and less new replacement methane is emitted.
The problem may be this: Year-over-year cow numbers for the U.S. are creeping higher. While still much lower than four to five decades ago, the issue emerging for DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is how to accommodate growth of the new and consolidating dairy structures to attain the checkoff’s expanded global export goal and to accommodate massive new dual-purpose plants if dairy farms in other areas remain virtually constant in size, grow modestly, or decline at a rate slower than the ‘designated’ growth areas are growing.
DMI is at the core of this, you see, to reach it’s new collective net-zero goal, cow numbers would have to decline in one area in order to be added in another area, or they will all have to have their methane buttons turned off or the methane captured because now the emissions are being tracked in order to meet one collective “U.S. Dairy” unit goal under the DMI Innovation Center and F.A.R.M.
At that 2019 Senate hearing,Dr. Frank Mitloehner testified that dairies already create zero new methane but this can be tricky when cattle move from one area to another (as we see in the industry’s consolidation).Then we have DMI’s Dairy Scale 4 Good claiming the dairies over 3000 cows can be net-zero in 5 years and ‘spread their achievement’ over the entire milk footprint. Do we see where this is going?
Will all dairy farms have to meet criteria — set by organizations under the very umbrella of the checkoff program they must fund — to get to a ‘collective’ net-zero using the GHG calculator developed by the checkoff-funded Innovation Center in conjunction with its partner WWF (12 year MOU)? This GHG calculator has been added to the FARM program. These are the big questions.