There’s a time warp at the UC Davis feedlot.
It’s the 21st century on most of these 50 acres of pastures and pens two miles west of the main campus, where renowned scientists produce ground-breaking research on animal welfare, livestock production and environmental quality. This is where you will find, for example, the multimillion dollar environmental chambers and bovine bubbles where UC Davis Professor and UC Cooperative Extension specialist Frank Mitloehner and his team work to minimize unwanted nutrient losses by animals – which affect water and air quality – and increase those nutrient values in the products we consume.
But it’s also where you’ll find one of the most antiquated feed mills around. Built in 1960, the rusty UC Davis feed mill is better suited for a museum than preparing the precise mixtures of grain and additives needed to conduct world-class science and educate a new generation of agricultural leaders.
“That mill is badly outdated,” says John Pereira, managing partner with Frontier Ag, a merchandiser of agricultural and feed commodities based in theSacramentoValley. “UC Davis has a top-rate animal science program that’s making a huge difference in our industry, keeping agriculture productive and sustainable. They absolutely need a new feed mill.”
And leaders from the industry are working to make that happen. Pereira is president of the California Grain and Feed Association (CGFA), which recently started the effort and donated $150,000 towards building a new UC Davis feed mill -- $100,000 now and $50,000 once construction begins in early fall 2013.
“It’s our way of supporting the work UC Davis and Frank Mitloehner are doing, which is some of the world’s finest research,”Pereirasays.
Mitloehner was recently selected to chair a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization committee to measure and assess the environmental impacts of the global livestock industry. The international effort is the first step toward improving the sustainability of the livestock sector, particularly as the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues to rise.
As chair of the new committee, Mitloehner will lead representatives of national governments, livestock industries, and nonprofit and private sectors in establishing science-based methods to quantify livestock’s carbon footprint, create a database of greenhouse gas emission factors for animal feed, and develop a methodology to measure other environmental pressures, such as water consumption and nutrient loss.
“A new feed mill will really help that effort,” Mitloehner says. “We very much appreciate the California Grain and Feed Association’s contributions. We’re also reaching out to conservation groups and other stakeholders, because quantifying livestock’s environmental footprint is important to us all.”
The new feed mill will cost $5.3 million -- $2 million of that from in-kind equipment donations already pledged from industry and $3.3 million in monetary donations. The UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences contributed $100,000.
“All the preliminary work has been done,” says Dan Sehnert, animal facilities coordinator for the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. “With the help of an industry planning committee, we have a site map, an approved Environmental Impact Report, and everything else we need to get started once we have the funds.”
UC Davis animal scientists are awarded millions of dollars in grant funding, but that money can’t be used to support infrastructure, like a new feed mill. The current feed mill was a gift from the California Cattle Feeders Association in 1961.
“It was state-of-the-art at the time,” says Mitloehner, leading a recent tour of the feedlot. “And it has served us well. But now, it is totally outdated.”
Mitloehner pauses by the tarnished feed mill, its pieces patched and repatched where maintenance crews struggle to keep the equipment running.