On his trip to Wisconsin last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a prime example of the kind of smart investment the federal government should make to confront climate change and support the economy.
UW-Madison and six other universities are to share a $9.9 million grant for a five-year research project aimed at reducing the dairy industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The project is especially important to Wisconsin, where the dairy industry contributes more than $26 billion a year to the state’s economy. Climate change is a threat to the industry and, consequently, a threat to Wisconsin’s economy.
In the long term, climate change puts Wisconsin at risk of becoming less desirable as a location for dairying. But of more immediate concern is the dairy industry’s contribution to climate change.
The industry produces 2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which tend to keep more heat in the atmosphere. Customers, including Wal-Mart, are pressuring the industry to cut emissions. Furthermore, the prospect of federal regulation looms.
In response, the industry has pledged to cut emissions by 25 percent in the next seven years.
Just as climate change poses a threat, the response poses an opportunity. By finding ways to cut emissions, the industry can improve efficiency, which would boost profits.
University research on new technologies and strategies can play a central role in helping the industry meet its challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, as a look through history demonstrates.
Wisconsin was a wheat-growing state in the 1800s. But when wheat farming
declined, University of Wisconsin research helped the state become “America’s Dairyland.” During the Dust Bowl on the Great Plains in the 1930s, university research found farming methods that cut down on wind erosion. After the Dust Bowl, university research helped produce higher-yielding hybrid crops.
No doubt, some wag will ridicule the USDA grant as a waste of taxpayer money on a study of manure, which indeed will be a part of the research. But while these are times to control government spending, these are also times to invest in the country’s future.
Investing in research to combat climate change and improve the dairy industry is the right priority.
Federal investment in university research can help agriculture
face the challenge of global warming.