California’s Popular Dairy Methane Reductions Program Scaling Up Nationally

Posted on Thursday, September 7th, 2023 by Renata Brillinger

The COWS Act – A Path to National Sustainable Manure Management

CalCAN is one of the lead champions for the Converting Our Waste Sustainably (COWS) Act – a federal bipartisan bill introduced earlier this summer in Congress. The COWS Act would replicate California’s popular Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) at the federal level.

The COWS Act, which serves as a Farm Bill marker bill, would establish a new voluntary USDA manure management conservation program to provide resources to help the dairy and other livestock operations install manure handling systems that:

  1. Reduce methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas
  2. Improve air and water quality
  3. Boost profitability by modernizing technologies for manure management

The Act would provide consistent funding for the program at $1.5 billion over five years. This commitment to adequate funding is particularly important given the historical underfunding of California’s AMMP program and the variability of the program budgets year-to-year. Each year, two to three times as many farmers apply for AMMP grants as there is available funding.

COWS Act grants cover the costs of various types of equipment to scrape manure from barns instead of flushing it into lagoons, separate manure solids from liquids and dry out or compost the solids, build compost pack barns, or increase the amount of time cows spend on pasture—all of which reduce methane emissions.

Building on the Success of California’s AMMP Program

CalCAN continues to be a champion for California’s AMMP. Since the program’s inception in 2017, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded 147 California dairies a total of $88 million for equipment that reduces methane emissions, resulting in an estimated reduction of the equivalent of 1.301 million metric tons of CO2

Since the program’s inception in 2017, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded 147 California dairies a total of $88 million for equipment that reduces methane emissions, resulting in an estimated reduction of the equivalent of 1.301 million metric tons of CO2. 
Photo Credit: CDFA

Alternative manure management practices supported by AMMP and the COWS Act are well-suited to small and medium-sized operations and organic dairies. Since a variety of practices are supported, producers are able to tailor their alternative manure management practices to best meet the needs of their operations, regardless of scale or geography. 

Over the years, we’ve heard from several grant recipients of the benefits of participating in this program. Luciana Jonkman of Diamond J Dairy in Merced County said, “our alternative manure management grant in California gave us the opportunity to demonstrate innovation and modernization. This new equipment helps us do the right thing for our cows, our team, our community and the environment.” To read additional stories from California AMMP grant recipients, visit our Farmer Voices page

Overcoming Challenges in the Dairy Industry

Over the last few years, the dairy industry has faced many challenges including drought, flooding, increasing feed costs, labor shortages, a fluctuating milk market, and supply chain issues related to Covid-19. Milk prices are below production, leaving dairy farmers with few resources to invest in new infrastructure. Establishing this federal program will not only help meet the demand of producers in California, the largest dairy-producing state in the country, but also create new opportunities for producers across the country to benefit and help curb climate change. We believe this program is a win for small and medium-sized dairy farmers and for the environment.

Improving the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title

Inclusion of the COWS Act in the next farm bill’s conservation title will fill an important gap in the farm conservation toolbox by implementing manure management practices that will work on farms of all sizes, reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and help boost the profitability of the dairy and livestock sector.

Broad Support for the COWS Act

The COWS Act has bipartisan support from these members of Congress: Jim Costa (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Michael Lawler (R-NY), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). It has also gained support from the dairy industry, including: Organic Valley, the California Farmers Union, Danone North America and the National Milk Producers Federation. Lastly, it is supported by numerous sustainable agriculture and environmental organizations including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Environmental Working Group. A full list of supporters can be found on the COWS Act website.

Join the Movement: Support the COWS Act

Help us continue to promote the COWS Act and show your support by:

Please reach out to CalCAN’s Executive Director, Renata Brillinger [renata@calclimateag.org], if you would like more information or have ideas about how to build support for this important bill!

Photo Credit: UC ANR
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