We keep hearing about the current administration’s pivot to climate change, so I keep investigating the remarkable things Arizona agriculture has been doing for some time to protect our environment and improve the climate. My pivot for this article is dairy.


Anyone familiar with Arizona’s dairy industry knows our dairy farmers have quite a climate-smart story to tell. For one, Arizona dairies turn methane into energy. It’s perhaps one of the most interesting stories in the mix of things dairy can highlight to show a smaller and smaller carbon footprint. 


American Farm Bureau (AFBF) gives us some fun statistics for the animal agriculture industry in general. In the past nearly 30 years: 

    1. Dairy and milk production has increased 48% while per-unit emissions for dairy have declined by almost 26%. 
    2. Beef production has increased 18%, while per-unit emissions have fallen more than 8%. 
    3. Pork production has increased 80%, while per-unit emissions have fallen nearly 20%. 


So, back to turning methane into energy. This process is done most effectively using methane digesters. To learn more about this technology, I reached out to United Dairymen of Arizona. Here’s what they explain about this energy-producing process. 


  • A methane digester from just one dairy can produce up to 5 million kWh of electricity, enough to power over 400 households. Arizona currently has several dairies using this technology to capture waste and turn it into energy.


  • In addition to capturing methane, digesters on Arizona dairies allow us to use over 368,000 tons of organic waste. 


  • In the process of making biogas, these digesters on dairies separate the remaining water and solids. The solids are used as fertilizer-grade manure management on cropland, and the water can be recycled as irrigation. 


  • Several Arizona dairies are converting manure into compost through their manure management systems. Composting allows dairies to repurpose manure waste as a fertilizer (soil amendment) that can also reduce odors, create alternative revenue streams, and reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions from manure. 

Beyond Methane digesters, according to the United Dairymen of Arizona, dairy farmers have found another way to recycle on their farms using brewer grains as animal feed. Brewer grains are a great source of protein and fiber for our cows.

For more information, check out the United Dairymen of Arizona's Sustainability Report


The farmers and ranchers I chat with on a weekly basis continue to tell me their stories of conservation, recycling, resource improvement and reduction and more when it comes to taking care of the environment. 


We will continue to tell this story. 


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