California is working to combine state incentives with research and market development programs to reduce climate-changing methane emissions quickly and cost-effectively, aiming to avoid the need for government mandates.

Backers of this climate initiative hope other states and other countries will follow California’s lead because, as a representative of the dairy industry said, “California can’t solve global warming on its own.”

Spurred on by accelerating drought and wildfire concerns, on Monday the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) invited public comments on its draft guidelines for two new grant programs designed to cut methane emissions from dairy and livestock operations.

Public comments on the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) and the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP) guidelines must be submitted by Dec. 10. The new grant application period will run from late December through April 2019.

This is the latest step in the state’s fast-track process for finding the quickest ways to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This approach targets methane, black carbon, and fluorinated gases including hydrofluorocarbons because for these emissions, “Their relative climate forcing, when measured in terms of how they heat the atmosphere, can be tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times greater than that of CO2.” That’s according to the California Air Resources Board’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy that’s guiding the state’s climate programs.

It’s an effort that could prove costly for agriculture. That’s why the California Farm Bureau Federation initially fought state SB 1383, legislation introduced to reduce methane and other short-lived emissions.

Agriculture groups would go on to work closely with state agencies to write the final bill. Now, SB 1383, as signed into law in 2016, has widespread stakeholder support as deadlines approach for imposing reduction mandates if goals aren’t met in time.

Michael Boccadoro

Michael Boccadoro, Dairy Cares

Solid support comes from Michael Boccadoro, executive director for Dairy Cares, “a statewide coalition with a mission to ensure the long-term sustainability of California’s dairy farm families.” He tells Agri-Pulse if the California legislature continues its current well-funded incentive programs for emissions reduction, the state’s dairy and livestock operations will benefit along with the environment and public health – and reduction mandates won’t be needed.

“We’ve been working for the past several years to voluntarily reduce methane through incentive-based programs,” Boccadoro explains, to reach SB 1383’s goal of cutting dairy manure methane emissions to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. He says Dairy Cares’ own goal is to achieve a 40 percent cut well before the SB 1383 law’s dairy and livestock mandates would be triggered in 2024.

Boccadoro points out state funding already totals $162 million, with another $100 million approved this year, and CDFA has provided grants to 64 dairy digester projects and 57 alternative manure management projects. He expects this year’s additional $100 million to fund about 40 more alternative manure management and 40 more dairy digester projects.

With the state’s $262 million matched about two to one by the dairy industry and a range of other state, federal and private incentive programs, Boccadoro predicts “the investment over the next few years is going to come close to $1 billion to reduce dairy methane on the manure management side.”

Under SB 1383, California is also incentivizing five biomethane pilot project “clusters” that will pump dairy biomethane into the state’s natural gas pipeline system. Calgren Renewable Fuels launched the state’s first cluster earlier this month, gathering digester biogas from 75,000 cows on 11 separate dairy farms in the Pixley, Calif., area.

Boccadoro says as a result of the incentives, California is on track to achieve its 40 percent dairy manure methane reduction goal by 2030. “The hope is that we can do that without any kind of formal regulations or requirements, through these incentive programs,” he adds, “so that there never are hard mandates that force the industry to put in costly technologies that may not pay for themselves.”

Within a few years, Boccadoro hopes “we’ll have 120 dairy digesters operating in the state and about an equal number of alternative manure management projects, so that will encompass several hundred dairies that have taken significant steps to reduce or eliminate their methane releases on the manure side.”

California’s incentive-based approach, Boccadoro says, is “a good model for other states and other countries to follow.”

“California can’t solve global warming on its own. We can’t even scratch the surface,” he said. “It’s really important that whatever we do here, we do in a way that others can follow our lead.”

Noelle Cremers

Noelle Cremers, CFBF

California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Policy Advocate Noelle Cremers tells Agri-Pulse CFBF was opposed to the legislation at first “because it was going to mandate reductions across the board regardless of whether or not they were feasible for our members to implement.” Farm Bureau dropped its objections when the final draft included “requirements to consider the feasibility and economic impacts of implementation prior to mandating reductions.”

Cremers says the good news is with SB 1383 now law and grant money flowing, building new biogas digesters in California “has gone quicker than anticipated” and “goes a long way toward meeting” the SB 1383 goals.

Raising the complex issue of “leakage,” Cremers welcomes SB 1383’s recognition that it’s important to avoid “pushing dairies out of the state.” Overzealous regulation could have done that with the result being emissions would simply shift to other less-regulated states, without any reduction in overall emissions.

The final SB 1383 law, Cremer explains, “recognizes the feasibility and economics around implementation.” By providing appropriate financial incentives, she says, California can maintain a healthy dairy industry while significantly reducing methane emissions.

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