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ONLY DAIRY cows, not these hereford cattle, are being targeted for methane reduction. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

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Obama administration targeting burping dairy cows

By From page A1 | June 04, 2014

The Obama administration has recently decided to tackle yet another pressing national problem: namely burping and flatulent dairy cows.

Yes, those cud-chewing, milk-producing, methane-burping bovines now have a big red bullseye on their hides in President Obama’s crusade to stop “global warming.”

According to a March 28 announcement from the White House, “in June, in partnership with the dairy industry, the USDA, EPA and DOE will jointly release a ‘Biogas Roadmap’ outlining voluntary strategies to accelerate adoption of methane digesters and other cost-effective technologies to reduce U.S. dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.”

This is despite the fact that there hasn’t been any significant global warming since 1998, and in the last 200 years the average global temperature has risen, at most, by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the EPA, methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States, making up 9 percent of emissions from human activities.

And though carbon dioxide remains the official bête noire of the global warming crowd, the EPA maintains the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than carbon dioxide projected over a 100-year period.

As evidence of the need for such action, the EPA claims they studied the sources of methane over the period 1990 to 2012. The study concluded that gas and petroleum systems contribute 29 percent of methane emissions; manure management 9 percent; coal mining 10 percent; landfills 18 percent; and enteric fermentation 25 percent.

Enteric fermentation is what takes place in the digestive systems of animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs as plant food is broken down into material the animal can digest.

Methane is a byproduct of the fermentation process which is expelled in the form of burping and flatulence with most of the methane coming from the front rather than the rear of the cow.

However, the stop-bossy-from-burping campaign is just one of many initiatives aimed at reducing methane production from sources such as landfills, coal mines, agriculture and the oil and gas sector. These programs go under names like Natural Gas STAR, AgSTAR, the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program and the Landfill Methane Outreach Program.

The AgSTAR Program, a collaborative effort of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is also aimed at livestock, but instead tackles manure as a source of methane. According to the EPA, the program “promotes the recovery and use of methane from animal manure through anaerobic digesters and biogas recovery systems. A biogas recovery system is typically anchored by a manure digester that captures and combusts biogas to produce electricity, heat or hot water. In addition to avoiding methane emissions, digester systems also reduce local water and air pollution, act as a source of renewable energy, provide rural economic development, better manage nutrients and generate other value-added products (e.g., manure fibers) that improve farm revenues.”
So far, the EPA claims these programs have reduced U.S. emissions by the equivalent of 63.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The EPA said its efforts to curb methane production by dairy cows will be a voluntary partnership program where the recovery and the use of methane as energy is encouraged rather than required. However, as with Obamacare, some are concerned it may be sold as a voluntary program and end up as just one more tax.
Locally, the program is not expected to have any impact, according to Scott Oneto, who is the farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension. “There aren’t any dairies in El Dorado County,” said Oneto, “although some people have dairy goats — usually for personal consumption. Local ranchers with beef cattle won’t be affected. This is mainly about large-scale dairy operations.”
Hook bossy up to the frig
Aside from encouraging dairies to install methane recovery systems, all this talk about global warming has scientists discussing the idea of producing a “climate-friendly cow.”
Suggested ideas include developing anti-methane pills, burp scanners and gas backpacks for cows.
According to an article in the Financial Times, a company in South Dakota already sells a feeding station that gives animals dietary supplements such as basil to cut methane production along with a vacuum that measures trace amounts of the gas. But at $45,000 a pop, such devices may be too expensive for most dairies.
Creating a Franken-cow is also being considered. Juan Tricarico, director of the Cow of the Future project at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, wants to use genetics to create a bovine with a genetically modified stomach eating genetically modified food that reduces methane emissions.

At Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology, scientists are putting methane to use with backpacks that collect gas via tubes plugged into the cows’ stomachs. With the typical cow emitting 250-300 liters of methane a day, researchers say this could be used to power a car or a refrigerator for a day.

Taking the idea to its logical conclusion, the United Nations and politicians in countries such as New Zealand, England and Denmark have floated the notion of taxing cow flatulence as a way of preventing global warming.

We aren’t at that point yet in the United States, but that may be the Obama administration’s next big hot air initiative.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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