Farmers can be an environmental solution to climate issues, according to Dr Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at UC Davis in California.
The narrative around agriculture and climate is very negative as a result of people, who have very minimal expertise, "chiming" in about the environment, Mitloehner told the Guild of Agricultural Journalists of Ireland AGM on Thursday in the Horse and Jockey Hotel.
"We feel that our farmers in the US and also here in Ireland, can be turning this climate issue from being a problem and a challenge into being a solution,” he said.
Farmers consider methane a liability, he said.
“I consider methane a real opportunity for us, because if we manage it right, we have less energy losses and that’s what we all want.
“We have to rethink methane and that is really critical. If we do, we can become part of the climate solution.
"We can turn this climate challenge around animal agriculture from being a liability to being an asset," he added.
Mitloehner explained that methane is not only produced but is also destroyed, and not to a minor extent. This, he said, is normally not part of the conversation about methane.
He said that methane is being depicted as “CO2 on steroids”, adding that this is not the case.
"Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that is true, and in fact I call methane the fast and furious greenhouse gas - furious because it has a strong heat-trapping effect, but fast because it doesn't live very long," he said.
In California, a US state with the same amount of cows as Ireland, dairy farmers have covered slurry lagoons and prevented the underlying biogas, 60% of which is methane, from going into the air, he said.
“That biogas is now trapped and then not burned to make power, but converted into a fuel type called renewable natural gas. That is then put into our vehicle fleet such as trucks or buses. The state of California considers this pathway as the most carbon negative fuel type there is.
“As a result, the state of California pays farmers the so-called low-carbon fuel standard credits. Low-carbon fuel standard credits are so high that they can make up almost half of what the farmer makes in milk, but this time from poop.
“So if a dairy cow makes about $4,000/year from its milk, you’re now making about $2,000 from converting biogas into transportation fuels,” he said, adding that the Californian dairy industry will achieve a point of climate neutrality in the near future, not just through manure management, but also through feed additives.
He also argued that public policy should be fact-based and not agenda-based.
"A lot of the reporting around agriculture has a very negative bias and often times it's not fact-based. That reporting often leads to public policy.
"For example, in New York City they are now mandating that on Fridays, kids cannot get animal sourced foods in school, and that's to protect the climate," he said.
See next week’s Irish Farmers Journal for more.