WHAT is the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk? University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) animal science professor Frank Mitloehner is trying to determine the answer to that question, as well as a host of related questions involving modern food animal production.
To help him do so, California's feed industry has launched an initiative to replace the aging UC-Davis feed mill, which is now in its 53rd year of service.
With a $150,000 gift, the California Grain & Feed Assn. (CGFA) started the effort to build a new $5.3 million facility that will replace the current feed mill, which was built as a gift of the California Cattle Feeders Assn. in 1960.
"That mill is badly outdated," John Pereira, CGFA president and managing partner of feed and commodities merchandiser at Frontier Ag, said. "UC-Davis has a top-rate animal science program that is making a huge difference in our industry, keeping agriculture productive and sustainable. They absolutely need a new feed mill."
With an initial gift of $100,000 -- and an additional $50,000 once construction begins this fall -- CGFA spawned what will ultimately be a $3.3 million fund-raising effort. Along with an additional $100,000 contributed by the UC-Davis College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, the feed mill project has already garnered in-kind commitments of $2 million in equipment necessary for outfitting and operating the mill.
A key driver behind the new feed mill is Mitloehner and his work, which Pereira called "some of the world's finest research."
Indeed, Mitloehner was recently tasked with chairing a U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization committee on measuring and assessing the environmental impact of the global livestock industry and improving the sustainability of meat, dairy and egg production.
Mitloehner said his research focuses on working with multiple stakeholders to establish science-based methods to quantify the carbon footprint of livestock production. Within that framework, Mitloehner and others are working to create a database of greenhouse gas emission factors for animal feed, as well as developing methodologies for measuring other environmental pressures, including water consumption and nutrient loss.
"A new feed mill will really help that effort," he said. "We're reaching out to conservation groups and other stakeholders, because quantifying livestock's environmental footprint is important to us all."
Much of the preliminary work to develop and construct the mill is already done, according to UC-Davis department of animal science facilities coordinator Dan Sehnert. An industry planning committee has worked to secure a site map and an approved environmental impact report. He said once the funds for the mill are secured, the project is primed to proceed.
The current UC-Davis mill is something of a patchwork as university maintenance professionals have worked over the past six decades to keep it in workable order.
For a recent experiment measuring bovine methane emissions, for example, graduate students mixed custom feed rations in a repurposed cement mixer. A new mill will give researchers much more control and flexibility in monitoring what goes into and comes out of the animals, measuring feed efficiency and nutrient uptake, among other variables.
With roughly 1,000 undergraduates and 100 graduate students enrolled in the UC-Davis animal science program, the prospect of a new feed mill means more than just cutting-edge research; it means new opportunities for many future feed and agriculture industry leaders, as well.