Editor’s note: This article is by Lou Varricchio, editor of the Sun. It is republished here with permission.
Vermont dairy farmers have been struggling economically for decades. Suppressed milk prices, as well as giant midwest and west coast farms, have threatened smaller family-run farms nearly everywhere.
Now comes a call by the Sierra Club, and its Vermont chapter, along with the organization’s other state chapters, to petition the White House to regulate emissions by dairy farms with 500 or more cows.
“As the threat of climate disruption becomes increasingly urgent, it makes sense that every source of greenhouse gas emissions should come under scrutiny. Both the reckless burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable agricultural practices are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Sierra Club Deputy Director Bruce Hamilton earlier this month. “The single greatest source of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is livestock, particularly factory-raised animals. Cattle… are responsible for about two-thirds of livestock emissions.”
Over 20 other environmental groups have joined the Sierra Club by signing the petition.
The move against “Big Dairy” is being linked to the U.S. Clean Air Act; the new petition blames large dairy operations for greenhouse gas pollution from biomethane, that is, flatulence-derived cow gas.
Several Vermont farms would be affected by any new rules enacted, according to Vermont’s Sierra Club chapter officials.
The Dubois farm, located on Route 17 in Addison, has over 2,000 cows. Perhaps the owners may already see the writing on the wall? Addison County’s largest farm is currently for sale online for over $19 million, listed by Carl Cole Realty in Vergennes.
Another “Big Dairy” operation is Pleasant Valley Farms in Berkshire with over 4,000 head.
In 2018, according to Vermont Daily online, 34 farms milked 700 or more cows.
“The National Sierra Club had signed on to the letter and whenever our national club takes a position it speaks for all chapters,” Robb Kidd, Vermont chapter conservation program manager, told Vermont Daily last week.
Local cattle rancher and state Rep. Harvey Smith (R) isn’t surprised that the Sierra Club has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to cut dairy farm methane emissions.
Representative Smith operates an all-natural beef operation on Lime Kiln Road in New Haven.
Smith appeared resigned to the Sierra Club’s proposal, but he suggested, lawmakers should take into account that local farmers are already doing a lot to share the burden in climate-change-related carbon reduction.
“I would like to point out a few observations that will make the agricultural community a team player in any carbon-reduction goals,” Smith told The Sun-Eagle. “The agricultural community understands that it needs to be part of the solution if a state or national carbon-reduction plan is to be successful.
“Farmers are currently using cover crops to meet the water quality goals by reducing nutrient loss and soil erosion. These same practices also sequester carbon by drawing down carbon from the air and storing it in the soil,” he said.
Smith said many farms in Vermont are already using or are planning to use methane digesters to generate green electricity for thousands of homes.
The Goodrich farm in Salisbury is currently completing work on a state-of-the-art methane operation to provide biogas to Middlebury College (to meet its carbon-reduction goals) as well as neighbors along the gas pipeline right-of-way.
“Vermont farmers are very proud of the role they play in food production,” Smith said. “They are keeping our working land open and productive for both residents and visitors to enjoy; they also provide habitat for a wide variety of plants, animals, fish, and birds. Farmers also provide places for people to enjoy their outdoor interests and helping to improve our air and water quality.”
Smith said farmers take great pride in being good stewards of the land.
But what remains to be seen is whether regulators in Washington, D.C., appreciate what dairy farmers are already doing to address human-induced climate change.