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Producers learn to maneuver in California’s regulatory maze

Progressive Dairyman Editor Andrew Weeks Published on 06 May 2014

Sometimes producers may feel a little tied up, just like the man bound with red tape depicted in the picture that Kevin Abernathy, director of regulatory affairs for the Milk Producers Council, pointed to on his slide presentation.

There’s a lot of red tape when it comes to California’s regulatory affairs, he said. The challenge for producers is managing the tape so they can move around.

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The seminar was one of several hosted by Progressive Dairyman at World Ag Expo Feb. 11-13 in Tulare, California. Abernathy’s Feb. 13 presentation addressed key issues Golden State producers face, including strict air and water regulations.

California’s rules and regulations are in some instances, in fact, stricter than those on the national level, Abernathy said. It doesn’t help that the state is suffering severe drought conditions, which further cramp its dairy and farm producers.

California has 35 local air districts, he said, while most of the state’s dairies are located in the San Joaquin Valley, where dairy’s alleged contribution to lessening air quality is often at the forefront of public debate.

Add to that the wrong assumptions sometimes made about dairies – such as what goes into the front of the cow versus what comes out the back end. Those assumptions have many times led to perceived solutions which, in the end, were found to be wasteful or ineffective. Unfortunately, such ungrounded assumptions sometimes still dictate regulations.

Abernathy’s message to producers: Don’t be discouraged – the Golden State is actually on a good road, especially the journey it’s made over the past decade.

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“It was like California went from zero to 100 mph in a matter of 10 years. That’s huge,” he said. “California remains one of the most efficient agricultural producers in the U.S. California is also among the most innovative in environmental research and adoption of practices.”

Some things producers can do: Learn from the past and work with local agencies to properly educate the public about dairy and farm operations. For one thing, the public needs to understand that livestock emissions are highly variable and complex. They vary seasonally, even daily, with changing weather and climate and are influenced by the design and management of facilities and animal types.

“There is no one-size-fits-all way to measure emissions,” Abernathy said, noting:

• Agriculture today is more efficient and environmentally conscious than at any time in the past century.

• Dairy is also more efficient and sustainable than at any time in the past 100 years.

• Efficient production, including cost-efficiency, often goes hand-in-hand with more efficient uses of natural resources and with a smaller environmental footprint.

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Other tools for Californians to navigate the state’s complex regulatory system include obtaining good information and good consultants, having good coordination and seeking knowledgeable counsel. PD

andy weeks

Andrew Weeks
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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