Interviews Highlight Successes, Opportunities for New Dairy Methane Program

Posted on Monday, June 4th, 2018 by

California’s latest climate change and agriculture program is the first in country that aims to reduce methane emissions from dairies and livestock operations by incentivizing environmentally minded manure management practices. In addition to providing significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, alternative manure management leads to other co-benefits such as improved air and water quality, reduced odor, and the production of valuable soil amendments.

CalCAN recently interviewed a number of experts in the industry to better understand how the new Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) is working for dairy producers. We found growing interest in the program, but a complex and difficult application that may keep many small and mid-scale producers out of the program until improvements are made.

What is AMMP?

In 2017 the CDFA began the first round of applications for the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), which incentivizes manure management practices that reduce methane emissions on dairies. Geared towards helping the state achieve the 40 percent reduction in dairy and livestock methane emissions required by SB 1383, AMMP provides grants for projects that move away from wet manure handling and storage, which lead to methane producing conditions, to drier manure management.

Among the program’s eligible practices are manure solid separation, conversion from a manure flush system to a scrape system, compost pack barns, or increased usage of pasture-based management. Producers can receive up to $750,000 for their projects and matching funds are encouraged but not required.  

The program does not fund anaerobic digesters, which are capital intensive, costing anywhere from $3 million to $9 million, and requiring significant manure storage, making them better suited for large confinement operations. AMMP is accessible to far more dairy and livestock producers as it offers relatively affordable solutions to methane emissions and other air and water quality issues, compared to digesters. AMMP is also scale neutral.

Following the latest round of applications which ended on May 22nd, CDFA plans to allocate between $19 million and $33 million to fund the next round of projects. This follows CDFA’s recent first round of AMMP funding, which awarded $9.6 million to seventeen projects in seven counties. These projects are expected to provide an estimated 367,476 metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas reductions.  

Stories from the Field

In order to help farmers plan projects and complete the extensive application, CDFA awarded grants this spring to technical service providers to assist farmers in applying to the program. CalCAN interviewed a number of individuals who provided technical assistance, including Resource Conservation District staff, Cooperative Extension specialists and others. The feedback we received highlighted the challenges that farmers faced during the application process and the need to improve it and increase the availability of technical assistance.

Positive progress

Those interviewed detailed a growing interest in AMMP from dairy producers, and a growing capacity for the completion of projects as producers become more familiar with the program. Despite tough financial circumstances for dairy farmers across the state, enthusiasm for more climate friendly manure management strategies put technical assistance providers in high demand. Overall, technical assistance providers we spoke to related positive feedback about the program from farmers, who were enthusiastic to receive funding for projects they had previously considered but could not afford. Farmers are finding that alternative manure management can benefit their business in multiple ways. For example, the construction of compost pack barns in rainier dairy regions can protect livestock from the rain and create valuable compost, all while reducing the farms climate impact. Additionally, dry manure management can reduce labor requirements, create recycled water, and reduce nitrate leaching.

The challenges

While many farmers were interested in shifting their manure management to achieve the multiple co-benefits these practices provide, they faced many barriers to successfully completing an application. We heard from technical assistance providers that the length and detail of the application was overwhelming for some. Additionally, the application required documentation that many farmers did not have, adding to a high time-cost of completing the application. Lack of grant-writing experience, computer skills and broadband access were additional challenges that technical assistance providers were able to help with.

Technical assistance providers experience

The individuals we spoke with were well positioned to help farmers overcome the challenges of the AMMP application. Some of the technical assistance providers discussed how their organizations’ past experiences applying for and implementing similar projects made them a natural fit for the technical assistance program. One individual we spoke to was able to utilize strong relationships with the local dairy community, as well as their technical expertise, to help ten out of twelve farmers follow through with the application process.

While CDFA’s small grants for technical assistance provided opportunities for providers to strengthen relationships with the producers they serve, limits on funding posed significant organizational challenges, especially for Resource Conservation Districts (RCD) who are often completely grant funded. Time constraints caused by the current technical assistance funding structure limited the ability of RCDs to provide adequate technical assistance based on the needs of farmers, despite their expertise with the application. All of the technical assistance providers we spoke to told us that one-on-one assistance was necessary for almost all farmers to complete applications. For some providers, this meant that they had to limit the number of farmers they worked with. For others, the necessity of placing time limitations on assistance put them at risk of damaging long standing relationships in the industry.

What’s next?

Help may soon be on the way for farmers by way of increased technical assistance funding. Assembly Bill 2377, authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) and sponsored by CalCAN, will increase technical assistance funding for Climate Smart Agriculture programs including AMMP. The bill passed out the Assembly, 72-0, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

In addition, the California Air Resources Board hosts a work group on non-digester manure management strategies that will inform policy moving forward. CalCAN’s Policy Director, Jeanne Merrill is a member of the group, which will meet on June 27th to discuss final recommendations for AMMP program and related strategies.

AMMP Quick Facts

Number of Projects Awarded to Date: 17

Number of Counties Receiving Grants: 7

GHG reductions: Methane equivalent to more than 367,000 metric tons CO2e over 5 years, or to removing more than 78,000 cars from the road for one year*

Budget for FY 2016-17:$9.8 million

Budget for FY 2017-18: CDFA proposes between $19 million to $33 million for AMMP out of the total of $99 million for Dairy Methane programs

Funding for Technical Assistance 2017-18: Up to $10,000 available for technical assistance providers. Eight providers awarded in spring 2018.

* Calculated with CDFA data and US EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

Stay Connected
Get newsletter and blog updates and action alerts from CalCAN