Manure Manager

Features Applications Beef
PS – You Need Both


April 25, 2008
By Robynne Anderson

Topics

Policy and science go hand-in-hand to address any major issue.


    Policy and science go hand-in-hand to address any major issue.

    There is no question the manure issue is large. A single cow can produce 13.5 tonnes per year. The solution to any large problem generally lies in several key areas: science, education, and policy. At the recent conference of the National Center for Animal Waste Management, it was clear there are many dedicated scientists working on the topic of manure. What was less clear was how to marry the science with education and policy.

    There is a tremendous depth of knowledge on the handling of manure. Sharing that knowledge by making it into accessible adoption information remains an ongoing challenge. So, more needs to be done on technology transfer. More also needs to be done on research and co-ordinating, particularly in key areas like volume reduction and new uses.

    However, for all the brilliant scientific minds applied to this problem there are some areas even science can’t solve. A few at the conference raised their eyebrows when it was suggested there is a role for policy in addressing manure.

By policy, I’m not just referring to regulations like the CAFO requirements on manure handling and storage. Of course, setting safety standards to protect humans and the environment are essential, but so are policy decisions to do more than police the problem—they can help solve it.

    For instance, working together with The Fertilizer Institute, the animal agriculture sector could help encourage a balanced approach to the use of mineral and organic fertilizer. Currently, the biggest use for manure is as fertilizer. The practice has clear benefits for soil quality, improving organic matter and tilth. However, mineral fertilizer has the benefit of consistent nutrient supply. Policies which allow, or even encourage, a combination of the two could go a long way to addressing the need for a balanced approach to nutrients.

    As well, for those composting manure, policies on proper criteria for composting to ensure it meets the needs of the organic and gardening sectors can secure its role in those industries. Without practices to resolve pathogen issues, these markets may be lost. Even good practices like avoiding use of too much sand can keep the organic matter of compost at the proper levels.

    Then there are places where policy can encourage the uptake of science. There’s no question that science can supply us techniques to make more out of manure than just a source of plant nutrition. Anaerobic digestion allows bacteria to process manure, releasing methane in a confined space which can then turn turbines to generate electricity. However, using this bio-gas technology takes large-scale operations and a progressive regulatory approach.

     Policy decisions could go a long way to helping the adoption of manure as an energy source. Regulating power grids is a complicated topic, less so in Canada, but creating an opportunity for bio-gas facilities to sell additional electricity to the power grid would certainly be a big leap forward in the viability of these facilities. It is particularly concerning, since other jurisdictions in Eastern Europe, China, and South America are more than willing to access the additional power while giving a boost to their animal agriculture sector.

     A further option is using other government programs. Apparently, both the US and Canadian governments use a bio-based fuel for a portion of their energy requirements.
  
     During the conference it was suggested that the livestock sector could work with a
military base to develop a bio-electric facility using manure to generate electricity for the base. This could be a great solution in places like the US Southeast where there is more manure output than there is arable land to safely apply it to.

    Then there are a myriad of other alternate uses for manure. In each case, it will likely take science to discover it and refine the technology, and then good policy decisions
to create an environment conducive to uptake of the technology. You need both policy and science, and education too.