Oregon values clean air and protecting our climate for the next generation but mega-dairies pollute our air and contribute significantly to climate change.
One of the biggest problems with industrial-scale dairies is the concentration of vast quantities of liquefied waste that is disposed of on cropland. Oregonians, not the mega-dairies, pay the price for the air and water pollution they create, for the depletion of scarce groundwater resources, and the harm to rural communities.
Mega-dairies are major sources of air pollutants like ammonia, methane, and nitrous oxide, and significantly contribute to our climate crisis. Livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of all human sources of greenhouse gases and is the dominant agricultural source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Manure management, specifically, is the fastest growing source of methane emissions because as factory farms overtake family farms, manure is increasingly stored in the toxic, liquid impoundments with the anaerobic conditions that lead to methane production.
Industrial agriculture increasingly advocates for biogas digesters as a solution to climate change, but these manure-to-energy projects are a false solution that will only further entrench factory farms by creating a market for the waste they generate. Between 1990 and 2017, U.S. methane emissions from dairy cattle manure rose by 134 percent. Facilities that use biogas digesters do not avoid these harmful impacts, or eliminate their significant contributions to climate change. To the contrary, digesters entrench the factory farm model by creating a market for their waste, and they are only economically viable when heavily subsidized by Oregon taxpayers via tax credits. If Oregon wants to avoid the worst impacts of climate change it must recognize that digesters will only make the problem worse.
The vast majority of Oregon’s family dairy farms, in contrast, are rooted in their communities, and contribute to the vitality of rural economies. They do not maintain dangerous quantities of liquid waste that threaten air and water quality, and do not engage in the high-volume industrial processes that require unsustainable quantities of surface and groundwater. The difference between mega-dairies and family farms in Oregon is night and day.