Dairy Producers Turn to Compost as Climate Solution

Posted on Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 by Jeanne Merrill
Ward Burroughs checking the compost windrows at Burroughs Family Farms

This year, a record number of dairy operators sought state climate investment funds for their operations. Over 90 producers applied to the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Last week, CDFA announced that 50 of those applicants received AMMP funding for their projects for a total of $31.4 million. CDFA awarded an additional $1.2 million for AMMP demonstration projects.

The bulk of the state’s dairy methane funds go towards dairy digesters. CDFA funded 43 dairy anaerobic digester projects for $67. 4 million and funded a $1.75 million digester demonstration project.

CalCAN advocated for the creation of AMMP as the dairy methane issues came forward in the state a few years ago. Here, we take a look at the AMMP projects funded and provide some background on the state’s efforts to reduce methane emissions from dairy and livestock operations.

Compost, Solid Separation Lead Project Types

Solid separation and compost bedded pack barns were among the most popular of the AMMP funded projects with 31 and 15 projects, respectively, including those practices in their designs.  Six of the fifty projects included flush-to-scrape conversion of their manure handling and storage.  Of the 50 projects, 31 one of them included composting of their manure as one of their project activities.

San Joaquin Dairies Top List of Project Awards

This year San Joaquin County dairies saw a jump in their number of AMMP awards from 3 in 2018 to 11 projects funded in 2019. San Joaquin Valley operations, including one heifer ranch, continue to have the bulk of the AMMP awards with 41 out of the 50 projects in the valley. This year, CDFA funded 8 AMMP projects on north coast dairies. See Table 1 for a breakdown of AMMP awards by county.

Table 1. AMMP Project Awards, 2017-2019.

2017 2018 2019 TOTAL
Merced 3 19 10 32
Stanislaus 6 5 7 18
San Joaquin 3 3 11 17
Tulare 2 3 7 12
Sonoma 0 3 3 6
Humboldt 1 1 4 6
Madera 0 2 2 4
Kings 0 1 3 4
Marin 1 0 1 2
Fresno 0 1 1 2
Glenn 0 1 1 2
Sacramento 1 0 0 1
Del Norte 1 0 0 1
TOTAL 18 39 50 107


AMMP Demonstration Projects

CDFA funded two AMMP demonstration projects. One led by UC Davis researchers and Extension will look at possible new practices, including:

“This project aims at demonstrating an integrated manure management system for reducing GHG emissions and converting solid manure into high-value compost products for efficient transportation and application on crop fields. The project objectives are to technically and economically demonstrate the integration of a centrifuge with screen separator, year-round production of pelletized compost; and conduct outreach activities to demonstrate the project to dairies and crop farmers.”

The other demonstration project will focus on outreach and education on existing AMMP project types and includes a collaboration of Cooperative Extension advisors and others to do the following:

“A combination of on-farm demonstration tour extravaganzas, informational videos and producer experience highlight documents will be developed and offered to allow dairy producers to observe practices in actual on-farm installations, learn first-hand from peer dairy farmers and acquire fact-based, real-time information.”

Why dairy methane projects?

In 2016, Governor Brown signed SB 1383 into law, requiring that dairy and livestock industries to reduce their methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, which is produced on dairy and livestock operations through wet manure handling and storage and through enteric fermentation (the belches) of livestock. Together, emissions from manure management and enteric fermentation account for two-thirds of California agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In the initial years, SB 1383 allows for voluntary measures by the dairy and livestock industries to meet the methane reduction goal. By July 2020, CARB is required to analyze the dairy and livestock sectors’ progress in achieving the 40 percent methane reduction. CARB can regulate dairy and livestock methane emissions from manure handling and storage, beginning in 2024.

Among the incentive-based strategies the state is pursuing to meet the 40 percent reduction mandate of the Alternative Manure Management Program, established by in 2017. AMMP provides grants of up to $750,000 for individual dairy and livestock producers to reduce their methane emissions through changes in manure management[1].

AMMP remains popular with dairy producers because for many of them it allows them to upgrade their dairies in ways that address multiple concerns, including improved water and air management. While methane issues may not be top of mind for most producers, the program is having a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. According to CDFA, the funded AMMP projects will reduce GHG emissions by 1.1 million MTCO2e over the first 5 years of the funded projects. That is the equivalent of taking more than 230,000 cars off the road for one year[2].

AMMP Public Comment Period Now Open

CDFA is currently accepting public comment on AMMP and its work on dairy methane, overall.  Comments are due on October 16th.  CalCAN will work with our dairy partners to submit comments.  If you have comments on the program, please consider submitting comments to CDFA or getting in touch with Jeanne Merrill with CalCAN: jmerrill@calclimateag.org


[1] Currently, enteric emissions are not part of the program.

[2] See:  https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

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