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Tillamook shares the scoop on poop

Latest stewardship report highlights work to reduce emissions from dairy manure.

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

June 6, 2024

4 Min Read
Tillamook Visitor Center
The Tillamook County Creamery Association has a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% over the next six years.Tim Hearden

The Tillamook dairy cooperative in Oregon is beginning initiatives to tackle one of the ripest problems confronting their industry – climate-affecting methane emissions from manure.

The 115-year-old co-op on the Beaver State’s north coast has secured a $4 million federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant to help with on-farm sustainability initiatives, which will seek to reduce emissions while protecting water quality.

The grant will be paired with about $900,000 in co-op and other contributions to fund projects for about 20 producers in Tillamook and Clackamas counties. Producers will build manure tank covers, compost barns, waste treatment facilities that separate liquids from solids, and plant trees near waterways, said Jocelyn Bridson, Tillamook’s director of environment and community impact.

“Roof manure tank covers are critically important to us,” Bridson told Farm Press. “Obviously dairies throughout the U.S. don’t have as much rain as we do. Coastal Oregon gets 100 inches of rain per year … We’re fixing an operational problem with farmers putting on covers, and you flare the emissions with cap-and-flare to reduce methane emissions from the manure tank.”

The grant is over a five-year period, and the co-op will begin taking its first project applications from members in the fall, she said.

Related:Farmer buy-in key in Tillamook’s green push

Stewardship report

The manure-emissions efforts are among the highlights of the Tillamook County Creamery Association’s latest Stewardship Report. Issued this spring, the report highlights efforts made in 2023 to rebuild ecosystems, employee-led initiatives to improve environmental sustainability, and community enrichment initiatives.

For example, TCCA’s employee-led Goal Zero team identified more than 110 stewardship projects, more than 50 of which have been completed. The work has reduced water use by more than 41.3 million gallons and saved 7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to the company.

Tillamook’s stewardship drive identifies six commitment areas:

  • Thriving farms

  • Healthful cows

  • Inspired consumers

  • Enduring ecosystems

  • Fulfilled employees

  • Enriched communities

Key milestones from the 2023 report include:

  • 99% of all paper-based packaging is from sustainable-certified materials, with a goal to reach 100% by 2025.

  • $2,500 bonuses awarded to farmer-owners who wrote and implemented an animal care improvement plan, such as increasing milk volume, improved walking paths, and automatic foot baths to help enhance cow comfort.

  • 60,000 pounds of agricultural plastic collected by farmer-owners and TCCA's Farm Services team ready to be shipped to a recycler, reducing on-farm landfill waste.

  • 130 grants awarded to causes focused on agriculture advocacy, food security and healthy children, totaling 6% of TCCA's net income donated.

  • 2,891 hours volunteered by TCCA employees.

Related:Tillamook partners with market on climate efforts

Tillamook is also touting its year-old partnership with New Seasons Market, an Oregon retailer, to establish a native riparian forest habitat on coastal farmland. The TCCA and New Seasons agreed to each provide $15,000 to plant about five acres of native, woody vegetation on dairy finds within the cooperative in the Tillamook area.

The TCCA in 2020 gained status as a Certified B Corporation, a key certification and third-party endorsement for its work on stewardship. A B Corporation recognizes stewardship in a range of areas, including environmentally friendly practices, animal welfare and ethical treatment of workers. New Seasons Market also has this certification.

Tillamook took another step in its sustainability journey in 2022 by committing to the dairy industry’s net-zero climate goals by 2050, including achieving greenhouse gas neutrality, optimizing water use efficiency while maintaining recycling, and improving water quality by optimizing use of manure and nutrients.

“We set out our climate goals a few years ago, and they’re in line with what scientists believe is necessary,” Bridson said. “I feel like we’re making progress. A lot of the early years we’ve spent laying the foundations for future work.

Manure management

To reach its preliminary goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% over the next six years, Tillamook is taking a four-pronged approach on farms, with two of the prongs related to manure management. The four concentration areas are:

Dairy biodigesters: Digesters use innovative technology to convert manure waste into energy or renewable natural gas, fertilizer, and bedding – a practice many TCCA farmer-owners and milk suppliers are adopting. About 25% of manure in Tillamook County currently goes to a digester or compost facility.

Manure additives: TCCA is piloting an all-natural manure tank additive on farms in Tillamook County that reduces odor and has been shown to reduce methane by 20%. As of late 2022, 20 farms were using the additive in manure tanks.

Enteric emissions: Cows have digestive systems that can convert grass, corn and agricultural by-products into healthy food, but this results in enteric emissions – cow burps. TCCA is tracking innovations in feed additives such as seaweed and other supplements that show potential in reducing enteric emissions.

Regenerative agriculture practices: Cover cropping, low- or no-till, and compost applications reduce GHG emissions while building soil health, enhancing microbial communities, and improving water quality. Nearly all the TCCA farmer-members practice cover cropping and many use both low-till and compost application to feed production areas.

Tillamook County has three dairy digesters and there’s another large digester in Boardman, Ore., about 235 miles east, and “a large percentage of our milk footprint is under those dairy digesters,” Bridson said.

The RCPP grant won’t cover digesters but will cover roofs, compost equipment and different types of waste treatments, which will be useful for smaller operations, she said.

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