December 10, 2008


Farmers say proposal to tax cow flatulence stinks

Federal government weighs permit that would charge farmers $45 per ton of emissions

FarmersJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Amanda Peck feeds calves on the family dairy farm in this photograph taken in May.

Staff reporter

The federal government might soon impose fees on the flatulence produced by the stomachs of Cortland’s 14,000 cows.
In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency began forming a plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and proposed a permit for businesses emitting more than 100 tons of pollutants each year.
In July, the agency filed an advanced notice of rulemaking to allow the public to make comments before the permits become a regulation.
In one day, a cow emits 25 to 50 gallons of methane gas through burping and flatulence, which means farms with 25 dairy cows release 100 tons of gas into the environment each year.
For the permits, farmers would be required to pay $45 per ton of emission, which equates to $175 per dairy cow and $87.50 per beef cow each year.
New York’s 6,400 farms would pay about $12 million each year for the permits, with Cortland County dairy farms shelling out about $2.5 million for its 14,000 dairy cows.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the proposal “ridiculous” and “absurd” during a conference call Tuesday.
“A stake needs to be driven through the (proposal’s) heart immediately,” Schumer said, pointing out the United States would have limited options for importing milk, if the American dairy industry couldn’t afford to operate.
In a news release, the EPA denied that it was imposing “a cow tax” and said it was reviewing more than 100,000 public comments collected on the proposal.
The news release also stated the agency has not committed to a deadline or specific steps for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But if implemented, Kathie Arnold, a Truxton farmer with 130 dairy cows, said the high cost of the permits would probably cause a hike in milk prices.
“(The permits) would be a significant burden for farmers,” she added. “The cost would have to get passed on to consumers.”
Stuart Young, who operates a 425-cow farm in East Homer, said it is unfair to levy fees on the dairy industry, given that farmers have increased efficiency by breeding cows to produce more milk.
Cortland County experienced a decrease of 2,000 dairy cows between 2000 and 2008, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
During the same time period, average milk production per cow in Cortland County rose from 17,300 pounds to 18,400 pounds, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Farmers should feel proud of increasing the efficiency of milk production,” Young said, noting that he would probably pay $700,000 every year in permit fees.
“It would certainly stink,” he added.


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