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NMPF Comments Urge USDA to Elevate Dairy in Conservation Programs

January 5, 2023

NMPF submitted comments Dec. 21 to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service urging it to prioritize critical opportunities for dairy as it implements new climate-smart conservation funding in the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in August.

In its letter, NMPF urged USDA to develop new initiatives focused on manure and feed management, both of which will help dairy farmers advance their sustainability leadership as the sector works to fulfill its voluntary, producer-led goal of becoming greenhouse gas neutral or better by 2050.

NMPF supported the Inflation Reduction Act’s $20 billion in landmark new funding for farm bill conservation programs.

“Dairy farmers seize environmental sustainability opportunities whenever possible,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. The funding increases “better position dairy farmers to effectively implement the dairy sector’s Net Zero Initiative and fulfill its 2050 environmental stewardship goals.”

USDA conservation programs offer important voluntary, incentive-based assistance to dairy farmers as they carry out multiple stewardship practices, but more can be done to emphasize systems and technologies that can yield meaningful environmental benefits for dairy producers. In its letter, NMPF urged USDA to “give priority to innovative approaches to manure and feed management, both of which are significant areas of opportunity for dairy producers as the industry strives to become GHG-neutral or better by 2050.”

NMPF’s submission recommended a new multi-pronged manure management initiative within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which received the largest share of the new funding provided in the Inflation Reduction Act. This initiative, if implemented, would focus on reducing methane emissions associated with manure handling and storage by targeting investments in waste separation and handling as well as methane digesters, which can capture as much as 80 percent of the methane from a waste stream. The initiative would also include a cap and flare component, emphasizing an approach better suited to those dairy operations that do not have the capacity for larger technologies like methane digesters.

NMPF also urged an enhanced focus on feed management to help dairy farmers augment their work to reduce enteric methane emissions, which can comprise as much as one-third of a dairy farm’s greenhouse gas footprint. NMPF’s recommendation included a focused effort to better educate NRCS staff on innovative new feed management strategies to increase the number of technical service providers that can work directly with producers on feed management plans.

NMPF will work closely with USDA as the department moves forward with implementation of this important new funding and will also partner with Congress in the upcoming farm bill to further target conservation programs toward meeting dairy’s environmental stewardship needs.