Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs
All California dairy farms operate with permits issued by water quality regulators. One of the
major issues those permits are designed to manage is making sure that manure produced on the dairy is handled in such a way as to not impair water quality. The primary way most dairies in the state comply with those water quality regulations is to utilize the manure as fertilizer for growing crops. Getting that balance right, for all dairies everywhere in the state, is a huge challenge. Competing uses for crop land and now the limits to pumping groundwater as a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act have heightened the attention to the fact that there is very likely a manure surplus on many California dairies.
California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross has just appointed a multi-disciplinary task force made up of dairy farmers, and industry representatives along with the fertilizer and soil amendment industry, university researcher representation, agronomists, various sustainable farming, and water quality interests as well as government agencies with air, climate and water regulating responsibilities to tackle this issue head on. The two co-chairs of the task force will be J.P. Cativiela, Administrator of the Central Valley Dairy Representative Monitoring Program, and Ryan Flaherty from Sustainable Conservation.
The Task Force goals are ambitious but important. They include:
• Increase the understanding of the scale and distribution of nitrogen surplus on dairies and potential demand from other crops for nitrogen and other manure nutrients.
• Identify research, technical and policy actions that encourage innovations to recycle surplus nutrients for use in agriculture; creating a circular fertilizer/soil amendment economy that builds healthy soils, conserves and protects water, and makes the state’s agriculture more sustainable.
• Organize short-, mid- and long-term potential solutions and create a roadmap for continued progress, including estimates of time and resources necessary to achieve research, policy, technological development, and educational/outreach objectives.
• Identify realistic and obtainable market-based outcomes to incentivize legislative action and investment.
Having CDFA put its official stamp on this task force as well as dedicating state time and resources to addressing the manure challenge for the California dairy industry is a very important step. As we look forward as an industry, finding an economically viable answer to handling surplus manure is a crucial part of enabling the flourishing of the California dairy industry over the long term. MPC applauds Secretary Ross for this action and looks forward to being a constructive partner in this effort.