A Reduced-Methane Future for Dairy: Meaningful Progress That's Economically Sustainable

Consumers are demanding environmentally sustainable food production in a more developed and nuanced way. Greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane emissions, are a vital concern in dairy production. Technology and the economic incentives for methane reduction on dairy farms are advancing rapidly. Dairy producers, particularly medium to large-scale operations, can make meaningful progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the sector, and they can do it in an economically sustainable way.

Report summary

“To effectively reduce emissions in a meaningful and economically feasible way will require transferring the value that consumers and society place on reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the farmers and others along the supply chain who are in a position to implement the needed changes,” according to Ben Laine, Analyst – Dairy.

Agriculture accounts for nearly 40% of total methane emissions in the US. On dairies, there are two primary sources of methane emissions. Manure is one source, which can be mitigated by using anaerobic digesters that capture the biogas from manure pits or lagoons. The other source is enteric emissions, which can potentially be reduced through feed additives and supplements that impact the digestion process within the cow.

Anaerobic digesters have been used on farms across the US for more than two decades, typically generating electricity and heat. Recently, however, the ability to further clean the biogas captured by the digester into renewable natural gas (RNG) is driving the rapid expansion and profitability of these projects. 

Methane-reducing feed additives are currently in various stages of development and do not have a clear revenue stream associated with them. The value of lowering enteric emissions through feed additives will come in monetizing methane emission reductions in the industry, as several companies strive for net-zero carbon emissions targets.