I am proud of the six decades I spent as a farmer, working the land and caring for livestock. I have had the privilege of coming from a multigenerational farm family that continues to be good stewards of our natural resources and livestock.
Lately, however, I've heard a whole lot of hot air spewed on the issue of, well, hot air. And I feel it's time to — pardon the pun — clear the air.
Election years tend to be ripe with baseless rhetoric, but anti-animal agriculture activists are trying to sell the notion that the greenhouse gas emissions from cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are comparable to that produced by the entire transportation sector, including cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc.
The notion is hogwash and I'm not the only one calling out this convenient lie. I applaud the University of California-Davis's Frank Mitloehner, a nationally recognized air quality specialist, who recently called for "divorcing political fiction from scientific facts" on the issue of greenhouse gasses.
Drawing on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and leading U.S. scientists, the professor reported that U.S. livestock production accounted for 4.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions. To put that into context, energy production generates 31% and transportation accounts for 27%. (Full disclosure: Dairy cows specifically — something near and dear to our cheesehead hearts — accounted for a mere 1.37%).
American agriculture has achieved these amazing results because we've learned to farm smarter and more efficiently. In 2015, the number of cows U.S. dairymen are raising is down 59% from 1950 while producing 79% more milk than they did during that era. Our carbon footprint is one-third the size it was 65 years ago.
Another election year truth is that politicians and their parties obsess about how America performs against other countries. Here's a statistic to remember: It takes two dairy cows in Mexico to even get close to the production of an American cow. It would take nine cows in India to equal that single American cow's performance.
The bottom line is that modern farming, with its scale, has effectively lowered the carbon footprint of agriculture. If we are serious about protecting the planet, I encourage people to embrace this progress.
"The U.S. livestock, poultry and feed industries are one of the most-efficient and lowest-environmental-impact systems in the world," Mitloehner said. "The research, technologies and best practices that have been developed and implemented over time in the U.S. can be shared with other production regions around the world."
America — and Wisconsin's — farmers were this nation's original environmentalists. We continue to be the standard bearers today. The vast majority of us inherited a family legacy of protecting the very earth, water and air that nourishes us.
We are not opposed to a national dialogue on the merits and methods of sustainable farming. But we should at least expect it be based on hard facts, not half-baked fear mongering.
Darrell Willer retired as operations manager of Omro Dairy in 2015.