California farmers are starting to make more money selling their cows’ manure than milk. Apparently, cattle excrement has been revalued in recent years after several energy companies have used it to obtain biogas from the methane it gives off and, above all, thanks to a California state aid plan known as the Cap-and-Trade Program, which provides economic incentives for the use of clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This program, which has been in effect since 2011, and other state aid to protect the environment have attracted energy companies interested in obtaining biogas from manure to California, as they have turned it into a very profitable business thanks to the subsidies. At first, these companies bought the manure and processed it, but in recent years farmers have discovered that if they build the facilities to process it themselves, they can increase their profits sixfold.
In fact, by selling the manure to the energy companies, a farmer can earn around 100 dollars a year per cow, while if he processes the manure himself to obtain biogas, he can earn 600 dollars a year for each animal.
Both energy companies and now farms use anaerobic digestion to obtain methane, carbon dioxide and other biogases. For this process it is necessary to have large manure tanks, which in the process of decomposition, emanate gases that are channeled to the tanks where they are stored.
The problem is that these anaerobic digestion systems harm both air and water quality, and the increase in the number and concentration of livestock as a result of the ever-increasing profits they provide to farmers is damaging the ecosystem.
As a result, pollution is increasing in the areas where these farms are located, especially in the San Joaquin Valley area, and the regulation created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, paradoxically, is contributing to harm the environment.