I recently spent two days hearing the latest and greatest on biogas
production and the use of agricultural byproducts for energy production
during the annual Growing the Margins Conference and the first annual
Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference, both held in London, Ontario,
I recently spent two days hearing the latest and greatest on biogas production and the use of agricultural byproducts for energy production during the annual Growing the Margins Conference and the first annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference, both held in London, Ontario, Canada.
Sessions included everything from recycling raw manure using fly larvae to psychrophilic anaerobic digestion of pig manure. But one talk really stood out for me both in its simplicity of implementation and its usefulness for farm operators.
Ben and Laura Green, and their son, Glenn, operate Ledgecroft Farms Inc., a 470-cow free stall dairy operation located in Eastern Ontario, Canada. During the past 10 years, they have expanded their operation, which was founded in 1970. And, while the family’s primary focus has been on milk production, “where there’s cows, there’s manure, and lots of it,” explained Ben and Laura’s daughter, Jennifer Green. In a bid to handle the manure responsibly, including decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing its possible impact on surface water, the Greens decided to investigate installing an anaerobic digester. But, they were met with a problem.
“They had difficulty in information gathering,” said Jennifer, who serves as the digester project manager for the farm.
In agriculture, there’s a tendency for large projects, such as barn building, to be granted to contractors based on existing relationships, she explained. When it came to anaerobic digestion, the Greens were dealing with an entirely new industry they had no background in. So, Jennifer suggested they borrow a resource tool from the engineering world – a Request For Proposal (RFP).
The RFP process is a common approach for design/build projects in the consulting and engineering industries but isn’t commonly used in agriculture. Ledgecroft’s principal members put pen to paper, developed an RFP for the digester project and invited four firms to bid. They received three submissions.
As part of the process, they decided to involve the farm’s lender in the review of technologies, a move that Jennifer described as having real benefits for the project.
“This really improved lender confidence,” she said. “We were able to satisfy a lot of uncertainties that can occur when attempting innovative projects.
“There was a seamless transition to obtaining funding for the project.”
In the end, the RFP experiment was a success and Ledgecroft awarded a contract for the digester project in March 2009. Jennifer recommends this approach to all farm operations considering a large project they might not have experience or expertise in.
“A project of this magnitude would benefit from this process,” she said.
I hope to have a more detailed article on the RFP process in a future issue of Manure Manager. Stay tuned.