The use of seaweed could help California dairy farmers as they face new standards to cut methane emissions.
In 2016, California set targets for cutting methane emissions as part of an effort to reduce statewide emissions of short-lived climate pollutants across industries, including the dairy sector. The goal is to cut the level of methane emissions 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, and the state believes 75 percent of that reduction should come from the dairy sector.
Dairy farmers fought against the tougher rules and argued at the time it would increase costs of doing business. The legislation was signed into law at a time when more dairy farmers were exiting the business or moving to other states.
"There are environmental costs of operating here and extremely high land costs, and feeds need to be brought in," said Ray Souza, a longtime dairy farmer in Turlock, California, who left the business in 2016 and now rents his dairy facility. "It just makes it more difficult for California to compete with the Midwest today."
California, the leading dairy state, is home to about 1.8 million milk cows and accounts for nearly 20 percent of the nation's milk production. The state also has more than 5 million beef cattle.
"California is a huge producer of dairy, and so when you just add up all the methane emissions that you have there and the amount of production that's happening, you can see how it can be a really significant contributor to those overall climate pollutants," said Marcia DeLonge, a senior scientist in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.
The state had 1,390 licensed dairies last year, down 30 dairies from the year-ago period. It has lost 173 dairies since 2012, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Some of the dairy operations that left California have located in states such as South Dakota, Iowa, Idaho and Nebraska. Those states do not have the stringent air and water quality rules found in California, including the requirement to cut greenhouse gas levels from livestock manure.
"California has a specific mandate to reduce methane emissions," Kebreab said. "So if we prove this works and becomes cost effective, then you could probably just use this additive to meet that mandate. You don't have to do anything else."