‘Carbon-negative milk?’ Northeast, Southeast milksheds can already claim it

EDITORIAL – OPINION

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 16, 2021

Farmshine readers will recall coverage of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee’s climate hearing in 2019, when Tom Vilsack, then president and CEO of U.S. Dairy Export Council, lobbied the Senate for climate-pilot-farm-funding. Remember, he announced DMI’s Net Zero Initiative at that hearing – five months ahead of its formal unveiling.

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.

Nationally, dairy cow numbers are rising after decades of declining. However, in the Northeast and Southeast milksheds, cow numbers are declining — and by a wide margin. 

This should indicate net methane reductions in the biogenic cycle or negative carbon milk for the fluid milk regions of the Northeast and Southeast.

As USDA and the industry coalesce around DMI’s unified approach through the Net Zero Initiative and the work of DMI’s Dairy Scale for Good with partner WWF — stating large integrators can be net zero in five years to spread their climate ‘achievements’ across the footprint of all milk in the dairy supply chain — I have to wonder what this means for the areas of the country beyond the ‘chosen’ growth areas.*(see footnote at the end)* 

Looking at the work of DMI’s Innovation Center and it’s fluid milk revitalization committee, sponsoring the launches of various diluted dairy-‘based’ beverages, something occurred to me from a marketing standpoint.

Here is a thought that could be helpful in the future for whole fluid milk bottled regionally to compete with emerging climate claims of dairy-‘based’ beverages that are made with ultrafiltered solids shipped by centralized cheese and ingredient facilities (without the water) to be reconstituted as mixtures with plant-based alternative beverages for population centers on the coasts.

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.

*footnote

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.

DMI’s NZI DS4G eyes climate policies, supply chain partners in net zero fastlane: but who gets the carbon credits?

Author’s Note: This is part two in a multi-part series about DMI’s Net Zero Initiative and Dairy Scale for Good implementation. Part one previously covered some of the 12- to 13-year history as well as the ‘scale’ approach for getting the industry to net zero faster. 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 30, 2021

ROSEMONT, Ill. — The official launch of DMI’s Net Zero Initiative (NZI) in October 2020, and World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) dairy net zero case study published in January 2021 (and corrected in February for a math error that overestimated the industry’s total CO2 equivalent emissions) are two of the mile-markers in farm visits and partnership development since Caleb Harper was hired by checkoff in May 2020 as executive director of Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G).

In those 11 months, Harper reports visiting 100 dairy farms representing over 500,000 cows in 17 states, processing 350 manure samples, and gathering over 8000 ‘data points.’

Earlier this month, Harper, along with Dr. Mike McCloskey, presented a “value proposition” for the dairy industry during a Balchem real science lecture about ‘net zero carbon emissions implementation on the farm.’

McCloskey of Fair Oaks Farm, Fairlife and Select Milk Producers has chaired the DMI Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Initiative since inception 12 to 13 years ago.

In short, DS4G pilots are setting up through “sponsorships” from large dairy-buying partners on large farms within their own supply chains. DMI’s former MOU sustainability partner, the WWF, makes the case in its report that “achieving net zero for large farms is possible with the right practices, incentives and policies within five years (by reducing) emissions in enteric fermentation, manure management, feed production and efficiency, and energy generation and use.”

“This value proposition for dairy cuts two ways,” said Harper. Farms of 2500 cows or more can go toward digesters tied to renewable fuel production, while farms 2500 cows and fewer can move toward a digester model that handles food waste, receives tipping fees and generates electricity.

Both models will depend on a combination of government subsidies, low carbon renewable fuel standards, electrification of the U.S., supply chain sponsorship and sale of resulting carbon-credits, according to information presented by Harper and McCloskey.

NZI aligns with climate policies announced and anticipated from the Biden administration, which mirrors what is coming out of the United Nations’ Food Summit, and World Economic Forum (WEF) Great Reset.

WWF has long been tied closely with WEF setting a global agenda and with the World Resources Institute (WRI) that evaluates science-based targets for companies making net zero commitments to “transform” food and agriculture.

“Innovative models are just now starting to bear fruit,” said Harper, citing McCloskey as a forerunner of “building out” the anaerobic digester concept.

For his part, McCloskey said they “counted on incentives” back in 2008 to be able to grow and “be the catalyst.” He talked about a future sustained by marketing the new products created as substitutes for fossil fuels, mined fertilizers and other products, as well as continuing to take in other carbon sources instead of landfills.

“We have the vision to set this all up, to perfect the technology and get it cheaper… so when we’re all doing the same things, incentives won’t be needed,” said McCloskey looking 10 to 20 years down the road when he sees this “surviving on its own.”

Harper described distributive models from the WWF report. One “being born” in California incorporates separate large scale dairies in a cluster – up to 20 or 30 farms within a 20-mile radius — each with its own digester that can “drop compressed methane into a transmission line to a centralized gas cleaning facility.” In this model, dairies either have a manure or land lease contract or an equity position in the operation.

This model, he said, relies on “societal values of green energy.”

Another distributive model being born in Wisconsin is described as a central digester with adjacent gas cleaning and upgrading. In this model, the manure from multiple farms is sent to the centralized digester by pipe or truck.

“These dairy clusters become ‘green’ clusters,” Harper elaborated. “So, it’s not just about the milk. They become a primary source of green energy inside of a state or nation.”

Food waste co-digestion is part of a different DS4G model driven by states adopting regulatory policy to keep organic material out of landfills. Harper said dairy farms can take advantage of such policies by centralizing waste collection for co-digestion.

“As we think about reducing emissions… a big part of that is bringing things grown off farm on farm, destroying their greenhouse gas potential, and taking credit for that ‘sink,’” Harper explained. 

However, in this example, the co-digestion is what gives the dairy its carbon credits, so technology that can handle higher waste-to-manure ratios and state / local regulations allowing farms to handle the off-farm waste are necessary. Such details were not discussed by Harper, and are presumed to be what large scale dairy pilots address.

The WWF case study showed bottom line profit and loss of $500,000 annually for a 3500-cow dairy. Harper believes this is a “conservative” estimate based on electricity production. With the right policies in place, the renewable natural gas value proposition would produce higher returns, according to Harper.

The renewable natural gas market will still be building over the next five to 10 years, he said, so these models also rely on renewable fuel credits and other fixtures they expect to be part of the Biden administration’s climate policies.

Manure handling technologies apart from the digesters were also discussed, which according to the WWF case study, represent one-third of both emissions-reduction and income potential.

Harper is actively engaged in studying the differing chemical profiles of manure between farms, regions, and states — saying he wants to “understand manure” — with and without digester.

Looking at scale, Harper talked about adapting municipal human waste treatment systems for processing manure on large dairies. He highlighted what is called the “omni processor” — a Bill Gates investment to separate small scale municipal waste and create drinking water using a spindle with multiple discs heated to where nonvolatile solids are in the dry matter and the rest are captured as they volatize.

One “off the shelf technology” Harper is focusing on is already in use to produce discharge quality water. It is the membrane system of ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) — the same UF RO technology McCloskey pioneered in milk processing to remove water from milk for transport and refine elements for value-added products.

Stressing the large amount of water in dairy manure, Harper said UF RO “is a process designed exactly for de-watering.” Whether this process occurs before or after the digester, he said it is part of “the technology train, so whatever you are tagging onto is working more efficiently, processing less water and more nutrients and refining more things to find value in.”

All of these technologies, according to Harper, can build on each other and tie together with “electrifying” the United States, strengthening low carbon renewable fuel standards, adopting renewable fertilizer standards, and monetizing carbon. 

One unsettled aspect in this regard, however, appears on page 9 of the WWF case study and was not mentioned by McCloskey or Harper in their presentation. 

What happens to farmers when their carbon reductions and removals become part of the supply chain in which they sell their milk, or are sold to companies as part of a milk contract?

The WWF report makes this observation: “There could be significant interest from large dairy buyers in reducing embedded carbon in their products by purchasing value-added carbon ‘insets’ directly from farmers or cooperatives within their supply chains. Were companies to work closely with the dairy industry to advance these initiatives and enable greater GHG reductions, they could potentially use these measures toward meeting their own reduction targets … and incentivize dairies to embrace net zero practices through long-term contracts or other purchase or offtake agreements.”

That’s an aspect of the tens of millions of dollars in dairy pilot partnerships pledged by Nestle, Starbucks and potentially others for their own supply chains through DMI’s NZI DS4G.

WWF explains further in its report that, “Such agreements could provide stability and collateral as dairies consider investing in technology like anaerobic digesters. Some of these companies might even be interested in finding ways to bundle and purchase carbon credits produced on dairy farms where they buy milk.”

Such incentives, contracts and bundling – starting with DS4G pilots — leave dairy farms exactly where in the supply chain?

The WWF report states it this way: “Such purchases would shift the emissions reductions from the farmer to the company. This would result in the dairy essentially selling the credits that would enable its net zero status, as the emissions reductions cannot be double counted. 

“So, if the reductions are sold, the farmer can no longer be considered net-zero. This is a conundrum that is beyond the scope of this paper,” the WWF report admits.

This important detail in the NZI DS4G implementation was not mentioned by Harper or McCloskey.

Meanwhile, these initiatives also rely on climate policy, with former DMI executive Tom Vilsack now having crossed back over into government as U.S. Ag Secretary just 20 months after seeking pilot farm funding and Net Zero target policies when he testified before the Senate Ag Committee in June of 2019 while employed by checkoff as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

President Joe Biden has said USDA is a key department in his administration’s climate action policies.

To be continued

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Transformative words, policies, what will they mean for farms, families?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, April 9, 2021 (expanded)

Resilience and Equity are the two words of the year when it comes to almost every legislative policy discussion and presidential executive order, and filtering down through the briefings given to members of organizations by those who represent them, walking the halls of Congress.

Great words. Great ideals. But a little thin on definition.

That’s par for the course on many of the terms used in the USDA press release announcing the newly-named programs under USDA from stimulus legislation — Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) — as well as details on the held funds for 2020’s CFAP 2.

It is difficult to make sense of much of the language in the press release because of terms thrown about and not defined. “Cooperative agreements” are mentioned as the way to grant nonprofits (yes, DMI would qualify), funds to help “support producer participation” in the assistance being offered. Broadened assistance for ‘socially-disadvantaged’ producers is mentioned, but no definition is given.

What will be attached in this approach within the context of transforming agriculture and food under the auspices of climate action, given the administration’s 30 x 30 plan, widely referred to as a “land grab”?

The 30 x 30 plan is part of a climate action executive order signed by the President within hours of inauguration. It aims to protect 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.

Specifically, Section 216 of the executive order states:

Sec. 216.  Conserving Our Nation’s Lands and Waters.  (a)  The Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall submit a report to the Task Force within 90 days of the date of this order recommending steps that the United States should take, working with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, and other key stakeholders, to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.

The Lincoln Sentinel in Nebraska reports that meetings are taking place in April in the western U.S. to explain to landowners what 30 x 30 entails.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, currently the U.S. protects 12% of its land. “To reach the 30 x 30 goal, an additional area twice the size of Texas, more than 440 million acres, will need to be conserved within the next 10 years,” the Lincoln Sentinel reported this week.

A bill in the U.S. House would create new “wilderness” declarations, land that will not be managed or accessed — including a complete ban and removal of all agricultural use from these “conserved” land areas taken to meet the 30 x 30 goal.

A push is happening in Washington to incorporate 30×30 ‘land grab’ principles into the massive infrastructure bill and in the COVID-19 relief stimulus package that was passed.

The slippery slope toward larger and hotter wildfires and against private property and generations-old land use rights has begun. And the Nature Conservancy, already a large land owner / controller, is already looking ahead to the 2023 Farm Bill to include certain conservation provisions in the final product. They also look to the National Defense Authorization Act to include public land designations.

Tom Vilsack — whom President Joe Biden stated upon nomination to the post of Agriculture Secretary — helped develop the Biden rural plan for rural America and now has the job of implementing it, is on record pledging to use every opportunity within existing and new USDA programs to meet transformative sustainability goals.

This is all aligned and consistent with the Great Reset. Farmshine readers may recall several articles over the past year pointing out the ‘land grab’ goals of World Economic Forum’s Great Reset and with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) ahead of this summer’s UN Food System Transformation Summit. The UN documents use the same “resilience” and “equity” buzz words without much definition.

Remember the awkward moment at a Biden town hall meeting in Pennsylvania during the presidential campaign when a potato farmer and Farm Bureau member asked about his positions on environmental regulation, such as the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) implementation.

Then candidate Biden’s telling response described “the transition”:

“We should provide for your ability to make a lot more money, as farmers, by dealing with you being able to put land in land banks and you get paid to do that to provide for more open space, and to provide for the ability of you to be able to be in a position so that we are going to pay you for planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air,” he said, also referencing manure and setting up industries in communities to pelletize it.

“That’s how you can continue to farm without worrying about if you are polluting and be in a position to make money by what you do in the transition,” then candidate Biden said.

Though Biden stated at that time that his climate policy was not the Green New Deal, the overlaps in language were hard to deny. The Green New Deal included such references to “land banks”, described as government purchasing land from “retiring farmers” and making it available “affordably to new farmers and cooperatives that pledge certain sustainability practices.” (The short way of saying the answer he gave above).

The $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan includes land use and protection provisions as well as the STEP Act to help pay for it. That’s a proposal to raise estate and capital gains taxes to begin taxing asset transfers between generations during the estate-planning ‘gifting’ process and lowering the amount exempted on land and assets of estates transferred before and after death. This could have a big impact on how the next generation in the farm business pays the taxes to continue farming.

As one producer put it in a conversation, the plan is tantamount to selling one-fourth or more of a farm in order to pay the ‘transfer tax.’ (But, of course, the government then has the perfect setup to come in and pay the farmer to land-bank it, and then give it to another entity that contractually agrees to grow what the government wants, or to re-wild it.

Think about this, as we reported in October, most of us don’t even know what’s being planned for our futures. Big tech, big finance, big billionaires, big NGO’s, big food, all the biggest global players are planning the Great Reset (complete with land grab and animal product imitation investments) in which globalization is the key, and climate change and ‘sustainability’ — now cleverly linked to pandemic fears — will turn the lock.

The mandatory farmer-funded dairy and beef checkoffs — and their overseer USDA and sustainability partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — have been at this global food system transformation table since at least 2008 when DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was formed and Tom Vilsack was starting his first eight years as Ag Secretary before spending four years as a top-paid dairy checkoff executive and is now again serving as Ag Secretary.

So much of the groundwork for this pattern is consistent with the work of DMI and its sustainability partner WWF toward the Net Zero Initiative, and key WEF Great Reset global companies have joined in with funds for NZI piloting.

Perhaps what brings it home for me is reading what National Milk Producers Federation’s lobbiest Paul Bleiberg includes and omits in his piece for Hoards online Monday, where he talks about how fast things are moving in Washington and how the Biden administration and the 117th Congress are advancing ambitious plans to stimulate the U.S. recovery that, “encompasses key dairy priorities, including agricultural labor reform, climate change, child nutrition, and trade.”

He notes that as Congress and the administration have begun to dive into climate and sustainability, NMPF has outilined a suite of climate policy recommendations. He writes that “primary among (NMPF’s) goals is for Congress to consider modernizing conservation programs and provide new incentives to dairy farmers to build on the significant sustainability work they are already doing.”

For those paying attention to the WEF Great Reset and WWF’s role in food transformation, it is obvious that the anti-fat Dietary Guidelines are a key cog in the food and agriculture transformation wheel.

Bleiberg mentions childhood nutrition as a key dairy priority, but puts all of his emphasis on “urging the Senate Ag Commitee to maintain the flexibility for schools to offer low-fat flavored milk.” No mention is made of expanding flexibility to include the simple choice of whole milk. This, despite citing the DGA Committee’s admission that school-aged children do not meet the recommended intake for dairy.

Giving schoolchildren the opportunity to choose satisfying whole milk would certainly help in this regard, but that choice would interfere with the long-planned food transformation goals of the global elite — the Great Reset.

We all need to be aware of the transformational elements within policy discussion, find out the definitions of terms and nuts and bolts of program changes, be aware of how our youth are being used as change-agents, and be prepared to speak up for farmers, families, and freedom.

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