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Close to Home: Raising cattle in a changing climate

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

Recently, some powerful voices entered the climate discussion. California’s beef and dairy families care passionately about the environment and welcome every opportunity to bring attention to one of the most important issues of our time.

If we don't work to protect the land we tend and the animals who provide so much for us today, we lose everything tomorrow. In large part, that is why California’s beef and dairy families resolutely stand with science and work as partners with our elected leaders to craft policy solutions that ensure sustainable production practices.

Our stance is informed by self-reflection and an acknowledgment that beef and dairy production has an environmental impact. As the sixth generation to farm our land, my family’s commitment to science-based solutions runs deep as our roots and frames our approach to creating a sustainable future for our son in the place we call home.

Cody Nicholson Stratton
Cody Nicholson Stratton

While my family produces organic dairy products, California’s family dairies come in all shapes and sizes. My husband Thomas and I love the diversity that embodies California’s cattle community, and that’s why any discussion on environmental sustainability and climate change must begin with accurate baseline data.

According to the most recent Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, beef cattle produce 2.2% of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and dairy cattle produce 1.2%. In California, beef cattle produce only a fraction of 1% of the state’s total GHG emissions.

Recognizing the need to be part of the solution, in 2017 California’s beef and dairy families were at the forefront of working to shape our state’s most ambitious climate goals — specifically the goal of reducing livestock emissions by 40% by 2030. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, dairy families have already cut 25% of the legislatively required 40%, outpacing original expectations.

Today, California’s beef and dairy families are working with a number of nonprofits and scientists who believe that the proper strategies and sound science exists to achieve those climate goals. In fact, a recent analysis by the World Wildlife Fund stated, “when coupled with the right incentives and policies, net zero emission for large dairies could be possible within five years.”

In addition, dairy families are working collaboratively with the state Department of Food and Agriculture to implement practices to better manage methane from manure and put this powerful nutrient to use growing organic crops, increase soil carbon and produce clean biogas. In fact, methane management tools on dairies are projected to deliver the most cost-effective greenhouse gas reduction investments in California’s climate action portfolio. Even more exciting, state Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross recently said that some dairy families are on track to cut methane emissions by 75% and produce 6.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually — enough to power 757 homes for one year.

Thomas and I are proud to be creating a sustainable future for our child, and we share that pride with every beef and dairy family in California. Together, we’ve made progress toward achieving our climate goals, and together we can confront the challenges that remain.

Fortunately, our shared resilience gives us strength to overcome those challenges.

Our future depends on it.

Cody Nicholson Stratton is a member of the California Cattle Council and a sixth generation dairyman in Humboldt County’s Eel River Valley.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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