Dairy farm families and cows have long been part of Tulare County life. The area remains the nation’s leading county in dairy production.
Farms, families, cows, and rural residents continue to co-exist and depend on each other for valuable jobs, nutritious food production, and a rural lifestyle local residents cherish. Our families work overtime to ensure environmental protection and remain committed to our local roots where we farm, raise our families, and participate in our communities.
Our dairies are more heavily regulated for environmental performance than those operating elsewhere. We pay higher wages than other parts of the country. And we continue to strive to be good neighbors and good stewards of the land. Unfortunately, our efforts and contributions are sometimes overlooked by those who oppose farmers and our rural way of life. Make no mistake, our local farm families remain dedicated to planet-smart dairy farming.
A study was just published in the Journal of Dairy Science that documents a dramatic reduction in environmental footprint of the state’s family dairy farms. University of California, Davis scientists conducted a life-cycle environmental assessment (cradle to farm-gate) of California dairy production, using latest scientific models and international research standards. The report documents significant environmental improvement, including:
The amount of greenhouse gas emissions per each unit of milk (e.g. glass or gallon) produced has decreased more than 45 percent, due to increased milk production efficiency, including improved reproductive efficiency, nutrition, comfort, and overall management.
The amount of water used per unit of milk produced has decreased more than 88 percent, primarily due to improved feed crop production and water use efficiency.
Dramatically improved feed crop production and utilization of agricultural byproducts have led to significant reductions in the amount of natural resources used to produce each unit of milk, including, land, water, fossil fuels, and energy.
Our world-leading dairy methane reduction efforts are another case in point. The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s successful dairy methane reduction programs have been investing in dairy methane reduction projects implemented by dairy farm families in California. The program has already helped fund 213 projects on individual farms, including 64 in Tulare County alone.
An analysis conducted by state officials shows the program isn't only providing substantial reduction in greenhouse gases but equally important, providing substantial benefits to local communities and disadvantaged populations. The analysis shows tremendous benefits to local air quality, including substantial reduction in ammonia, reactive organic gas, particulate matter, and odor.
Dairy digester projects, where methane manure is converted into clean, renewable transportation fuel, will soon be producing up to 60 million gallons of renewable natural gas fueling more than 6,000 clean natural gas trucks in the San Joaquin Valley. Conversion of heavy-duty trucks from diesel to cleaner alternative fuel alone will provide between 650 to 1,320 tons of reduction in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) each year, benefitting local communities and residents. For perspective, that's a NOx emissions reduction equivalent to taking 250,000 to 500,000 cars off valley roads each year.
Tulare County farmers are also working to improve water quality and further reduce water use. Additionally, 25 percent of dairy farms in Tulare County dairy farms have on-farm solar systems, with an average energy capacity of one megawatt. That means our local farms produce about 111 million kilowatt-hours of solar energy each year — enough clean, renewable energy to offset the greenhouse gas emissions of 17,000 cars.
California’s dairy farm families are leading the world in planet-smart dairy practices. Sustainability is a core issue for Tulare County dairy producers, and they should be recognized and commended for their efforts.
Tom Barcellos is a third-generation dairy farmer at T-Bar Dairy in Porterville, where his daughter, Bridget and her children are now the fourth and fifth generation to help run the dairy. Joey Airoso’s family has operated Airoso Dairy in Pixley since 1912. Joey works in partnership with his father, son, and grandson.