Cutting through the crap
FPPC offers outreach on nutrient management and value-adding
September 23, 2010 by Tony Kryzanowski
Farms of all sizes now have more options to dispose of their manure and
profit from its nutrient and energy value, thanks to the research work
and demonstrations conducted over the past eight years by Farm Pilot
Project Coordination Inc. (FPPC).
Farms of all sizes now have more options to dispose of their manure and profit from its nutrient and energy value, thanks to the research work and demonstrations conducted over the past eight years by Farm Pilot Project Coordination Inc. (FPPC). They can also count on FPPC to weed out the technology contenders from the pretenders.
|Bio-char from poultry litter helps the environment through carbon sequestration, and can be returned to the soil as an important carbon source.
The sub-title on the FPPC name is “Technologies for Nutrient Management,” with funding for approved pilot projects coming from the federal government and overseen by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“We’re an organization that is focused on doing research, but doing research on the farm,” says FPPC general manager Bob Monley. “Our laboratory is literally the farm, and we do projects that are farm-scale or full-scale so that we can get the learning curve in front of us.”
The FPPC has conducted around 45 projects throughout the United States and Hawaii since 2002. About 85 percent of the technologies they have tested produce the expected outcomes in terms of nutrient management from a technical point of view.
“We have our share of snake oil salesmen who want to offer a solution based on no data and based on enthusiasm only,” says Monley. “So we have a fine line to walk and we listen very attentively in seeking to get the data and the facts, as well as to vet and test the technology, not only in a realistic way, but to make sure it is credible information and not just self-serving for any of the vendors.”
The challenge is also to determine if the technology is economically viable.
FPPC can cite some commercial successes. One involves a client that is successfully manufacturing and marketing organic fertilizer from poultry litter to about 500 outlets. He is now working with FPPC to investigate the composting of poultry mortalities. Another is a dairy farm in Wisconsin that uses a combustion process to consume dried dairy solids to produce steam and power for the grid. He is able to compete with the cost of power being generated from traditional methods, and given his success, he is currently expanding his manure-based power generation operations.
|Separating out water from manure and purifying it is an important part of FPPC research, as it has many potential value-added uses, both on and off the farm.
“A lot of our farmers have been conditioned, or have been told that they have to take this waste and almost give it away,” says Monley. “That’s a problem we are trying to correct by transforming the waste to something value-added that the market will reward.”
FPPC’s specific mandate is to oversee the implementation and administration of pilot projects aimed at demonstrating economically viable innovation treatment technology systems that reduce the nutrient content of the waste stream from animal feeding operations (AFOs) by 75 percent or greater. However, since its formation in 2002, FPPC has discovered that the problem of nutrient management is much more multi-faceted than initially thought. For example, it is possible to consider energy production while using technology to capture nutrients from the waste stream. Removing solids from the waste stream can result in a clean water resource. In removing solids for nutrient management, not only is the odor significantly reduced, but if an anaerobic digester is used to generate methane, farmers are eligible for a financial incentive to help the environment when that greenhouse gas is consumed. Thermo-chemical technology can also be applied to convert manure solids to a bio-char that can be used as a carbon source and returned to the soil. It is a form of carbon sequestration, which is another positive for the environment.
“It’s a pretty exciting time now to see this waste go from what had traditionally been thought of as something to be minimized to now being understood as a resource stream with multiple benefits,” says Monley. “There is a growing awareness of the resources that we have available to us and what we can do to make the best use of them.”
The FPPC believes that conversion of manure into a variety of value-added products is the wave of the future and is a renewable resource – as long as Americans maintain their traditional diet of milk, meat and eggs.
“On a daily basis, milk, meat and eggs generate a waste stream from animal agriculture called manure. We are blessed that manure is a resource that has multi-dimensions to it,” says Monley.
Initially, a lot of FPPC’s focus was to educate and work with farmers about the best options for complying with their nutrient management planning.
“(The) jargon was something new to the farmer; not necessarily new in concept but in administration. Nutrient management plans were a basis for determining how much manure … their cropland could accept and what was reasonable to apply, based on the uptake of the crops,” says Monley.
Growing environment consciousness, regulatory pressures and a greater interest in pursuing a toolbox of innovative technology have allowed FPPC to expand its farm services. The organization has become a focal point and a clearinghouse for technology concerned with treatment and conversion of manure into value-added products. It has also aided in connecting farmers with legitimate service and equipment providers.
“I think with this resurgence in renewable energy, people have begun to realize that the manure waste stream coming from animal agriculture is loaded with water, nutrients and energy,” says Monley. “So naturally, I think there has been resurgence on what to do with this waste stream and what we can do to take advantage of it.”
FPPC has also undertaken demonstration projects related to action that owners of small farms can take to improve their nutrient management practices. It could be something as simple as investing a little more labor into composting manure instead of land-spreading untreated waste, or learning how to prevent nutrients from endangering a nearby stream. FPPC can provide farmers with information on how to get started and manage manure in this fashion.
Monley acknowledges that some of the FPPC’s best efforts have been in research related to wet waste management from the hog and dairy industries, primarily concerning solids separation rather than research related to drier waste produced by cattle feedlots and the poultry industry.
“But we recognize that all of those, properly dried, can be used for energy production,” says Monley.
While the need for continued research and demonstration of technology through pilot projects is obvious (given the public’s appetite for better nutrient management and value-adding), the economic downturn is a potential problem for future FPPC funding.
“We do expect that it is going to be a lot tougher to get support for anything that requires funding,” says Monley. “That’s just the reality of trying to live within our means … but most people realize that because of the scarcity of energy worldwide, and because the cost of energy is likely to go up, all of the alternatives are going to become more attractive and competitive with traditional fossil fuels.”
While not necessarily a household name in many farming communities, FPPC is definitely interested in raising its profile and sharing its knowledge and list of contacts with the farming community. It recently hosted regional technology summits in the Chesapeake Bay area and Des Moines, Iowa, and just hosted its annual Technology Summit in Saint Petersburg, Fla. Information about presentations made at the summits is available at www.fppcinc.org.