Source: Organic Valley news release LA FARGE, Wis., — Organic Valley, the largest cooperative of organic farmers in the nation, announced today that the first agreements and payments have been provided to initial organic farmers participating in Organic Valley’s Carbon Insetting Program (OVCIP). Building off the University of Wisconsin-Madison published research in the Journal for Cleaner Production, which showed Organic Valley’s average on-farm milk emissions were some of the lowest in the nation, the cooperative is taking the next step to improve the carbon footprint of its milk. “These are real funds for farmers taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,” CEO Jeff Frank said. “As a cooperative business, we are committed to these organic farmers with long-term agreements and relationships, and the farmers are committed to us with verified carbon reductions and, of course, organic milk. We’re building this business to deliver for farmers who deserve to be rewarded for their efforts and customers who want real choices for climate-friendly dairy.” As a recipient of the USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities grant, the co-op is offering additional support for practices implemented on eligible Organic Valley member-owner farms, including selecting and scoping region-specific projects, verification of those projects, and then helping to fund the practice installation. Organic Valley’s carbon insetting program is category first in offering end-to-end support and a market price for per ton of third-party verified carbon reduction or removal by a participating farm. The co-op offers technical assistance to help farmers plan and design carbon-reducing projects, sources grant implementation funds and ensures monitoring and verification of those projects. The initial projects occurring across regions, and the first set of farmer agreements include on-farm projects like: · Trees planted in actively grazed pastures. · Renewable energy installations at farmsteads. · Upgraded manure management technology. · Enteric-reducing feed supplements. During the “Carbon Insetting is the New Offsetting” session at the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) Dairy Forum in Phoenix, Organic Valley Director of Sustainability Nicole Rakobitsch shared the actions the cooperative is taking to turn the concept into reality. This level of direct involvement and openness is rare in the industry, making Organic Valley’s program a unique and traceable model for carbon insetting in agriculture. Read Organic Valley’s blog Rootstock to learn more about how organic farmers are implementing these practices. “We promote a food production system that produces good food for people but maintains an environment that does not deplete natural resources,” said Organic Valley dairy farmer Chris Wilson from Wisconsin. “The goal is constantly trying to find ways to sequester carbon and make healthy soil. Healthy soil supports healthy cows, healthy cows make delicious and nutritious milk — all this goes hand in hand.” About Organic Valley Organic Valley is the leading organic farmer-owned cooperative on a mission to save, serve and safeguard small organic family farms. The brand’s products are ethically sourced, which we define as food raised on organic farms where families manage the daily care for the animals and the earth while living up to the requirements of the USDA National Organic Program as well as our cooperative’s own high standards and practices designed to promote the principles of organic agriculture, including respect for the dignity and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil and global life. Founded in 1988, today the cooperative is owned by over 1,600 organic family farms. Visit ov.coop for more information.

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Source: University of California, Davis

Are cattle a secret weapon for taking on California wildfires?

California’s cattle ranchers contribute a significant amount to the region’s culture, economy and food supply, but do they also inadvertently help to temper the wildfires that have been plaguing the state? And if so, is it a better alternative – environmentally speaking – to letting grasslands burn?

A new study published in the journal Sustainability delves into the topic, weighing the advantages – and disadvantages – grazing cattle bring to the table. Researchers, including a cohort from University of California, Davis, set out to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of cows consuming vegetation that would otherwise burn in wildfires. Then they estimated the GHG emissions that would result should that forage be untouched and therefore, consumed by fire, eventually comparing the two.

Feeling the burn

Given the severity of California’s recent wildfires and the belief they will continue and even escalate in the near future, it’s a discussion worth having, says Frank Mitloehner, an expert in animal agriculture and air quality from UC Davis, director of the CLEAR Center and one of the researchers who contributed to the peer-reviewed article.

“Each year from 2010 to 2020, California lost on average 89,000 acres of grassland to wildfires,” he says. “In addition to the obvious disruption and devastation they caused, the fires spewed greenhouse gases and harmful particulate matter such as black carbon into the air and into our atmosphere. Those alone threaten climate health and human well-being.”

A fast and furious gas

Cattle are adept at eliminating herbaceous fuel as they graze. However, at the same time, their specialized digestive system produces methane that is expelled most often in the form of enteric emissions … more commonly known as belches. By way of background, methane is a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere at 25 times the rate of carbon dioxide over 100 years. But it’s only in the atmosphere for 10 to 12 years after it’s emitted. Following that, it’s broken down into carbon dioxide and water vapor.

For that reason, Mitloehner refers to methane as a “fast and furious” gas. Furious because it warms with a vengeance and fast because it does so for only a short time, especially when compared to carbon dioxide. Furthermore, because of the biogenic carbon cycle, whereby plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis, the warming of methane and its byproducts can end entirely when it’s hydrolyzed and used by plants.

How researchers calculated emissions

In order to determine if grazing, methane-emitting cattle are better for the atmosphere than burning grasslands, Mitloehner and the other researchers employed a method known as “Monte Carlo simulation,” a mathematical technique used by scientists to predict outcomes of an uncertain event.

Looking exclusively at methane emissions, they found it’s better to have cows eat vegetation than to have wildfires burn it. Granted, it’s only marginally better, but when one considers other advantages of animal agriculture and conversely, other disadvantages of widespread, uncontrolled fire, the conversation suddenly shifts.

“Even if cattle provided no other benefit to us, which certainly is not true, we can now make the case that they are helpful to us in yet another way,” Mitloehner says.

Friends or foes?

It goes without saying that one would be hard pressed to find much good to say about wildfires, but that doesn’t hold true for animal agriculture. The industry provides jobs and supports the economy in other ways as well. Plus, it is a major source of protein-rich food that is in increasing demand as the world’s population continues on a trajectory toward 10 billion people by the year 2050.

Where global warming is concerned, the industry is in the unique position of being able to reach net-zero warming, also known as climate neutrality, if it continues to aggressively chip away at its methane emissions, which Mitloehner asserts is of critical importance to the planet. “Few other sectors can reduce its warming to net zero and still be of service to society, but agriculture can because of the way methane behaves in the atmosphere,” he says.

To be clear, grazing cows are no match for wildfires. Yet, in addition to everything else the sector does for us, slowing the burn and keeping relatively more methane from entering the atmosphere are not nothing.

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