South Dakota cattleman addresses House subcommittee
Cattle aren’t hurting the environment. They’re helping it.
That was the message a past president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association brought to some members of Congress recently.
Todd Wilkinson, a practicing attorney and feedlot co-owner of DeSmet, South Dakota, shared details about cattle with the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Oct. 17.
The topic of the hearing, “Reducing Emissions While Driving Economic Growth: Industry-Led Initiatives,” provided Wilkinson the opportunity to “wear a white hat for a change,” he said.
“We got to tell them that we actually have a positive story in terms of global warming, with the whole cycle of grass getting used by a ruminant animal, then the methane admission getting converted back over a period of years and the cycle going over and over again,” he said.
“We’re actually taking pasture which in many cases can’t be used for anything other than pasture, and converting it into a nutritious protein product,” he said.
Wilkinson believes the subcommittee hearing was spurred on in part by the release of the “Green New Deal” resolution proposed by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that calls for vague policies like investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.
“A lot of benefits come from livestock. We talked about cows grazing on grass, intensive grazing, the use of distillers’ grain. We talked about weed reduction and the advantages to wildlife,” said Wilkinson. “If a rancher goes out and puts a water system in remote pastures, that ends up being a water system for wildlife,” he said.
Wilkinson said he produced his testimony in conjunction with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who secured his seat in the hearing, and asked him to speak.
“(Grazing) naturally sequesters carbon, a benefit compounded by ruminant grazing,” Wilkinson explained to committee members. “Grazing builds deep root systems in prairie grasses, which improve soil health. Healthy soils retain more water, sequester more carbon, and increase the resiliency of our ranches.” “Methane emissions from cattle are part of the natural methane cycle,” Wilkinson continued. “Within 10 years, more than 90 percent of that methane combines with oxygen in the atmosphere and converts to CO2. Methane has no long-term impact on climate when emissions and oxidation are in balance. And this balance has been maintained for centuries.”
He believes the hearing was a good use of his time, and that some of the representatives were educated by his and the three others’ testimonies.
“I got the impression that all the representatives came away with a positive impression from the beef industry,” he said. “I felt like we got a fair audience.”
Wilkinson was interviewed by several media outlets directly following the hearing. He met with South Dakota’s Senator’s Rounds and Thune during his trip to discuss trade policy and the “tariff war.” He was told by Thune that things were “moving forward,” but he said the “proof is in the pudding.”