Western View: Got Gas?

Taylor Hillman Features, Western View

Picture this: A lovely green pasture, full of California cows, here to provide milk, cheese and butter to a grateful state. But the state is concerned about their flatulence.

Yes, cows are gassy, they stink and draw flies. But now their flatulence is creating air pollution issues, according to the scientists. So picture those beautiful cows with bright pink backpacks on their shoulders, with bags that fill with methane gas as they go through their day.

That’s happening to cows in Argentina. The National Institute for Agricultural Technology has created a system that collects methane gas from the cow’s intestinal tract and stores it in a plastic bag. They collect an average of 300 liters, or about 80 gallons, of methane each day – gas that can be recycled and used to power farm operations or vehicles.

Bagging methane gas may be a bit of a stretch for most cattlemen, but now the cow is the subject of a lot of study and there’s a lot of work going on to reduce their emissions.

Dairies and cattle feed lots have long been recognized as a source of air pollution. A 1200 pound cow is expected to generate about 800 to 1000 liters of methane a day, according to environmental scientists. Much of it is discharged through its waste which can be captured and recycled.

But the cow itself remains a target for environmentalists. The White House wants the dairy industry to cut emissions by 25 per cent by 2020. California wants to cut methane emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. These levels won’t be reached by recycling the manure alone. Growers will be expected to reduce flatulence at the source – under the tail of the cow. Some reduction may occur by dietary changes – which would of course change the taste of the milk products and the meat, and may not be acceptable to consumers.

The dairy industry claims the state is overstepping its authority with these new rules. The Milk Producers Council has blasted the new regulations. They believe these changes puts the future of the California dairy industry in danger.

One thing is clear: science needs to find a real answer. If we really need to meet these tough new standards, I doubt a plastic backpack is going to do the trick.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.