Manure Management
April 28, 2017, Bradford, IA – Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff have determined that runoff from poultry litter located one mile north of Bradford in Franklin County reached a small tributary of Maynes Creek.

The investigation began following a complaint about chicken litter dumped in a crop field near the intake to an underground tile line.

On April 24, DNR discovered a certified commercial manure applicator from Iowa Falls had dumped the litter so he could remove his manure spreader, which had been stuck in a wet spot near the tile intake. Water samples from pooled water around the litter showed high ammonia levels where runoff entered the tile line.

The tile line was partially plugged, but investigators found some runoff flowed underground. Joined by several other tile lines, ammonia levels in the tile line were low by the time it flowed into a small, unnamed tributary of Maynes Creek. DNR staff found no dead fish in the stream.

"We recognize that accidents happen and some things can't be prevented," said Jeff Vansteenburg, supervisor of the Mason City DNR field office. "When something like this happens, several responses are possible including putting a plastic pipe over the tile inlet to keep runoff from going underground."

The custom applicator has worked to remove the litter and pump up ponded runoff. He has removed contaminated litter and runoff and land applied it to crop fields. Repairs to the tile line should occur this week, weather permitting.

DNR will continue to monitor the tile discharge and consider appropriate enforcement action.
Published in News
April 27, 2017, Lethbridge, Alta – The beef industry is facing opportunity and a dilemma.

Consumption of animal protein is expected to increase more than 60 percent over the next 40 years according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Ruminants are a key to meeting this demand because they can convert forage to protein-rich food and make use of land not suitable for arable crops.

The dilemma is ruminants are also a significant environmental problem, producing large amounts of methane from that forage consumption.

There are no silver bullets to deal with methane and ammonia emissions but there is real promise for significant improvement on the horizon say Dr. Karen Beauchemin and Dr. Karen Koenig, two researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Lethbridge Research and Development Centre.

Here are three examples.

New product

Perhaps the most dramatic methane control option is a new product in the pipeline designed specifically to manage methane production in ruminants.

"Methane is lost energy and lost opportunity," says Beauchemin. "The inhibitor 3-nitrooxypropanol (NOP) is a new compound synthetized by a company out of Switzerland specifically to control methane. A feed additive, it interferes with normal digestion process reducing the ability of rumen organisms to synthesize methane, shifting methane energy to a more usable form for the animal."

Research by the Lethbridge team showed adding NOP to a standard diet reduced methane production 40 percent during backgrounding and finishing of cattle. Trials have been done in commercial feedlots and it is moving into the registration channels in North America.

"Obviously there are hoops to go through in registration and questions such as pricing and mode of use in the cow calf sector that would affect industry uptake, but it is a very promising emission control alternative that could be available within three to five years," says Beauchemin.

New techniques

Diet manipulation is also promising. For example, increasing the nutritional digestibility of forages through early harvesting increases animal efficiency and reduces methane emissions, says Beauchemin.

"We're also overfeeding protein in many cases which increases ammonia emissions," says Koenig. "For example, distillers grains, a by-product of the ethanol industry, are commonly fed in feedlots. But the nutrients are concentrated and when added to diets as an energy supplement, it often results in overfeeding protein, which increases ammonia emissions."

One new area of research that may mitigate that, she says, is using plant extracts such as tannins that bind the nitrogen in the animal's gut and retain it in the manure more effectively. That retains the value as fertilizer.

"There are supplements on the market with these products in them already, but we are evaluating them in terms of ammonia and methane management."

New thinking

A new focus in research trials today is thinking "whole farm."

A new research nutrient utilization trial in the Fraser Valley of B.C. is looking at crop production in terms of selection of crops, number of cuts, fertilization and feed quality.

"We are looking at what is needed to meet the needs of the dairy cow," says Koenig. "It's a whole farm system that does not oversupply nutrients to the animal."

Road ahead

Basically, most things that improve efficiency in animal production reduce methane and ammonia production, says Beauchemin and Koenig. They emphasize that while forage does produce methane, forage is a complex system that must be considered as whole ecosystem with many positive benefits.

The biggest opportunity for improvement in methane emissions is in the cow calf and backgrounding sector because they are highly forage-ration based. But the low hanging fruit and early research in emission management is focused on the feedlot and dairy sector because diets can be controlled more easily.

Related scientific paper here "Effects of sustained reduction of enteric methane emissions with dietary... ."
Published in Manure Handling
April 25, 2017, Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf recently announced the investment of $39 million for 12 drinking water, wastewater, storm water, and non-point source projects across nine counties through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST).

The investment includes four projects aimed at improving manure control facilities:

Chester County
  • Chester County Conservation District and Elmer Kaufman received a $408,039 grant to install a variety of manure control facilities, including a concrete waste storage structure, gutters and downspouts, four catch basins and new pipes, as well as planting 900 feet of new grass waterways, in order to reduce nutrient run-off into Two Log Run during wet weather.
Lancaster County
  • Chester County Conservation District and Daniel Esh received a $350,467 grant to install a variety of manure control facilities, including more than 1,000 square feet of paved and curbed barnyard as well as 14,400 square feet of reinforced gravel animal trail, in order to reduce nutrient run-off into a tributary of the East Branch of Octoraro Creek during wet weather.
  • Chester County Conservation District and Fiddle Creek Dairy received a $245,494 grant to install a roofed manure stacking structure, a watering facility, underground outlets, as well as animal trails and walkways that will serve to reduce nutrient run-off into a tributary of Big Beaver Creek during wet weather.
  • Chester County Conservation District and David Stoltzfus received a $347,055 grant to make a variety of improvements it manure handling facilities as well as installing reinforced gravel animal walkways, a stream crossing and streambank fencing, all of which will reduce nutrient run-off into Muddy Run during wet weather.
"Today marked another special day for the PENNVEST program and for the citizens of Pennsylvania. By approving almost $40 million in funding for clean water projects across the commonwealth, the PENNVEST Board continued its commitment to improve the quality of our rivers and streams, the health of our families and the economic prosperity of our state", said Governor Wolf. "Together we will further the achievement of these goals and make Pennsylvania an even more desirable place to live and work for this and future generations."

Of the $39 million, $18.2 million is allocated for low-interest loans and $20.8 million is awarded through grants.

The funding comes from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PENNVEST from the Environmental Protection Agency and recycled loan repayments from previous PENNVEST funding awards. Funds for the projects are disbursed after bills for work are paid and receipts are submitted to PENNVEST. READ MORE
Published in News
April 24, 2017, Lafayette, NY – Here's a statistic to start your day. A dairy farm with 200 cows produces as much manure as the city of Albany and its 98,000 residents produces sewage, according to a leading environmental group.

Communities have experience with managing human waste, but as the state's dairy industry has grown in recent years to meet the needs of yogurt, cheese and milk lovers, so has the problem of manure that poses an environmental threat to waterways and residents.Manure management has become controversial, and farms in Central New York are at the center of the debate. READ MORE
Published in State
April 21, 2017, Richland, Wash. – Oil and gas wells and even cattle release methane gas into the atmosphere, and researchers are working on ways to not only capture this gas but also convert it into something useful and less-polluting.

Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have developed a new system to convert methane into a deep green, energy-rich, gelatin-like substance that can be used as the basis for biofuels and other bioproducts, specialty chemicals — and even feed for cows that create the gas in the first place.

"We take a waste product that is normally an expense and upgrade it to microbial biomass which can be used to make fuel, fertilizer, animal feed, chemicals and other products," said Hans Bernstein, corresponding author of a recent paper in Bioresource Technology.

Methane is an unavoidable byproduct of our lifestyle. Manure from dairy cows, cattle and other livestock that provide us food often breaks down into methane. Drilling processes used to obtain the oil and natural gas we use to drive our cars and trucks or heat our homes often vent or burn off excess methane to the atmosphere, wasting an important energy resourcePNNL scientists approached the problem by getting two very different micro-organisms to live together in harmony.

One is a methane-loving methanotroph, found underground near rice paddies and landfills — where natural methane production typically occurs. The other is a photosynthetic cyanobacterium that resembles algae. Originally cultured from a lake in Siberia, it uses light along with carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.

The two aren't usually found together, but the two co-exist in harmony in a bioreactor at PNNL — thanks to a co-culture system created by Leo Kucek, Grigoriy E. Pinchuk, and Sergey Stolyar as well as Eric Hill and Alex Beliaev, who are two authors of the current paper.

PNNL scientist Hans Bernstein collected methane gas from a Washington dairy farm and Colorado oil fields and fed it to the microbes in the bioreactor.

One bacterium, Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z, ate the methane and produced carbon dioxide and energy-rich biomass made up largely of a form of carbon that can be used to produce energy.

But Methylomicrobium alcaliphilum 20Z can't do it alone. It needs the other micro-organism, Synechococcus species 7002, which uses light to produce the steady stream of oxygen its counterpart needs to carry out the methane-consuming reaction.

Each one accomplishes an important task while supplying the other with a substance it needs to survive. They keep each other happy and well fed — as Bernstein puts it, they're engaging in a "productive metabolic coupling." READ MORE


Published in Energy
April 20, 2017, Ithaca, NY – All living things – from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals – need phosphorus. But extra phosphorus in the wrong place can harm the environment. For example, when too much phosphorus enters a lake or stream, it can lead to excessive weed growth and algal blooms. Low-oxygen dead zones can form.

Runoff from agricultural sites can be an important source of phosphorus pollution. To help evaluate and reduce this risk, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) first proposed a phosphorus index concept in the early 1990s.

Since then, science progressed and methods improved. In New York State, scientists and agency staff developed and released a phosphorus index in 2003. Now, a new project proposes a restructured index to build on phosphorus management efforts in that state and beyond.

"The idea is to account for the characteristics of a field, and help evaluate the risk of phosphorus runoff from that location," says Quirine Ketterings, lead author of the new study.

The new index structure improves upon previous approaches. It focuses on the existing risk of phosphorus runoff from a field based on the location and how it is currently managed. Qualities like ground cover, erosion potential, and distance to a stream or water-body all come into play. The index also highlights best management practices to reduce this risk.

"The new index approach will direct farmers toward an increasingly safer series of practices," says Ketterings. "Higher-risk fields require more and safer practices to reduce and manage phosphorus runoff."

Ketterings directs the nutrient management spear program at Cornell University. She and her colleagues used a combination of surveys, computer-generated examples, and old-fashioned number crunching. They used characteristics of thousands of farm fields to develop the new index. Involving farmers and farm advisors was also a key step.

"As stakeholders, farmers and farm advisors are more likely to make changes if they understand why," says Ketterings. "Plus, they have experience and knowledge that folks in academia and in governmental agencies often do not."

This field experience can be vital. "Involving stakeholders in decision-making and getting their feedback makes the final product more workable," says Ketterings. "It may also prevent mistakes that limit implementation and effectiveness."

Ketterings stresses that the previous index was not wrong.

"Farming is a business of continuous improvement and so is science," she says. "The initial index was based on the best scientific understanding available at that time. Our new index builds and improves upon the experience and scientific knowledge we have accumulated since the first index was implemented. It is likely this new index will be updated in the future as our knowledge evolves."

The previous index approach could be somewhat time-consuming for planners, according to Ketterings. Further, it didn't always help identify the most effective practices for farmers. The new approach addresses both of these issues.

"We wanted the new index to be practical to use," she says. "The best index has no value if people cannot or will not implement it."

In some circumstances of low or medium soil test phosphorus, the original New York state phosphorus index allowed farms to apply manure and fertilizer in what we now consider to be potentially high-risk settings.

"The new index approach proposes soil test phosphorus cutoffs and also encourages placing manure below the soil surface," says Ketterings. "These changes will bring improvements in phosphorus utilization and management across the farm."

Ketterings also thinks that the new index is more intuitive.

"It allows for ranking of fields based on their inherent risk of phosphorus transport if manure was applied," she says. "It really emphasizes implementing best management practices to reduce phosphorus losses from fields."

In addition, the proposed index approach could make it easier to develop similar indices across state lines, according to Ketterings. This makes sense, since watersheds don't follow state boundaries. Growers could use different practices, if deemed appropriate, for different regions.

READ MORE about Ketterings' work in Journal of Environmental Quality.
Published in Other
April 20, 2017, Ithaca, NY – For many parts of New York State, not for the first time, March 2017 provided both deep snow and saturated wet conditions that presented significant manure related challenges, especially to daily spread and short term storage operations. The state's Department of Environmental Conservation recently issued a warning about risky manure spreading.

While the conditions are still fresh, every operation should take stock of manure storage options and look for ways to avoid application in these situations. Over the last few weeks, I have heard more comments than usual from farm and non-farm folks alike about seeing neighbors spreading manure on barely trafficable fields or even from the edge of the road.

If you find your operation in this situation, or if you strained to find fields that can hold up the tractor and spreader without getting stuck, runoff risk is likely to be high and application should be avoided whether you are a regulated farm or not. Spreading just before rain or snowmelt can be just as risky, even if a field can be driven on without getting stuck.

For stackable manure in the short term, temporary pile locations can be identified with the help of SWCD, NRCS, or private sector planners until better storage options can be installed.

New York State and federal cost share options are available annually; meet with your local SWCD and/or NRCS staff to start the process. The Dairy Acceleration Program can help with cost of engineering on farms under 700 cows.

Position your operation for the future: evaluate manure storage needs and implement solutions.
Published in Manure Application

Many would say that solids are the most critical component to handle in a digester, but water is a critical factor as well, logistically and financially.

Published in Anaerobic Digestion
April 18, 2017, Lexington, KY – On April 11, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in Waterkeeper Alliance, et al., v. EPA, vacated a 2008 EPA rule that exempted farms from certain hazardous substance reporting requirements (2008 Rule).
Published in Regulations

April 11, 2017, Dixon, IL — Taking safety precautions is vital for cattlemen working with barns that have pit manure storage.

“There are many good reasons for using liquid manure systems,” said Ted Funk, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois. READ MORE

Published in Beef

March 17, 2017, Sioux Falls, SD – It’s generally not recommended to spread manure on frozen, snow-covered fields, but there are certain guidelines producers should follow when storage pits are reaching capacity and applying manure in the winter is necessary.

A recent study by a South Dakota State University graduate student looked at different methods of applying solid manure in winter months and their effects on water quality. READ MORE

Published in Dairy

 

A mobile system for removing phosphorus from cow manure may offer dairy farmers greater flexibility in where, when, and how they use the nutrient to fertilize crops.

The idea behind the Manure Phosphorus Extraction System (MAPHEX) is to remove phosphorus and concentrate it in a form easier to manage, says Clinton Church, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) environmental chemist.

“Some farmers with plenty of land may need to drive 20 miles or more to reach some fields,” says Church. “That makes transporting large volumes of manure uneconomical (or impractical), even if the crops there need phosphorus.”

Working with Pennsylvania State University collaborators, Church and his colleagues developed and tested MAPHEX as a way farmers could “mine” phosphorus from their manure and market it as a value-added product.

To do this, the team mounted an auger press, centrifuge, vacuum-filter unit, and other components atop two trailer beds so the entire system could be driven to a farm and operated onsite on a daily or rotational basis.

MAPHEX works in three stages, each removing progressively smaller fiber particles and other phosphorus-containing matter from the manure. In addition, there is a chemical treatment step between the last two stages to convert dissolved phosphorus into a filterable particle. Water extracted from the manure is retained on the farm; it contains most of the manure’s nitrogen.

MAPHEX works quickly. In about 10 minutes, it can extract 99 percent of the phosphorus from 250 gallons of manure. Additionally, it removes odor from the manure.

The fiber and other phosphorus-containing particles exit the system as concentrated solids, which can be transported for use off-farm or sold to nurseries. Solids from MAPHEX’s first treatment stage could also be sold as cow bedding.

The MAPHEX team will begin demonstrating a full-scale version of its system on a working dairy farm this spring.

Jan Suszkiw is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service office.

 

 

Published in Dairy

 

Liquid manure application in the Midwest typically happens in spring and fall each year. The majority of liquid manure application takes place using a tank or a dragline applicator, providing additional nutrients to crops.

Tank applicators transport manure from the livestock facility to agricultural fields and apply manure using a tank-mounted tool-bar. For fields that are close-by, manure can be pumped directly to the dragline-mounted tool-bar. In either case, a pre-determined application rate is used to pump manure through a manifold, which distributes manure to the application points across the tool-bar.      

“Environmental regulations require producers to make sure manure is being applied to agricultural fields in accordance with their manure management plans,” said Dan Andersen, assistant professor and extension agricultural engineering specialist with Iowa State University.

Variations in tank capacities, manure densities and the presence of foam can cause the application rate to be different from the target number, as can variations in drive speed. Application rate should be verified, and both tank and dragline applicators need to be calibrated to ensure accurate application.

Both distribution of manure and calibrating the applicators are covered in a pair of new ISU Extension and Outreach publications – “Distribution of Liquid Manure Application” (AE 3600) and “Calibrating Liquid Tank Manure Applicators” (AE 3601A). Both are available through the Extension Store. A “Calibration Worksheet for Liquid Manure Tank Applicators” (AE 3601B) is also available.

Calibration of the application rate, in terms of gallons per acre applied, can be achieved using an area volume method. For applicators without automated controls, the volume of manure applied in a given pass should be determined. Knowing the density of the manure and the area covered in the pass, the application rate can be determined. Instructions for determining density and coverage area are included in publication AE 3601A.

There are manure applicators that use tractor-mounted automated flow controls to achieve accurate application rates. In these cases, flow controllers use a flow meter with an actuator to govern the flow rate and, subsequently the application rate.

“The majority of flow meters are set at the factory for their rated measurements, which can potentially be different when used for manure application,” said Kapil Arora, agricultural engineering specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “The flow meters should be verified to ensure they are providing correct flow rate readouts to the flow controls.”

Achieving calibration of the target application rates only provides an average amount applied on a per acre basis. This application rate is delivered to the manifold mounted on the tool-bar, which then distributes the manure to the application points. This distribution of the manure across the tool-bar swath should be uniform so the variability among application points is minimal. This distribution should be verified only after the calibration for the application rate has been completed.

Split manure application, manure application to soybeans, high total nitrogen testing manures, and use of the Maximum Return to Nitrogen Rate Calculator can all cause the manure application rates to be lower than what was previously being used.

“Distribution across the toolbar points can be verified by capturing the discharge from each point for a known time,” Arora said. “Care should be taken to set up the equipment as close to the field conditions as possible. Aim for as low a variation as possible in the captured discharge so that better distribution is achieved across the toolbar swath.”

 Kapil Arora is an agricultural and biosystems engineering specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Daniel Andersen is an agricultural and biosystems engineer, also with ISU Extension.

 

 

Published in Other

March 7, 2017 – Rotterdam-based architects are coming up with plans to transform the city through the construction of a floating dairy farm, which is expected to commence operation later this year.

The Floating Farm project team is led by Peter van Wingerden, Carel de Vries and Johan Bosman of property development company Beladon who see it as a way of bringing food production very close to the consumer when there is limited available space on land to do so. The designers aim to bring people into closer contact with the natural value of agriculture and horticulture, livestock farming and a healthy diet. READ MORE

 

Published in Dairy

March 1, 2017, Hilmar, CA – Two years into an experiment in dairy manure handling, the worms are proving their worth.

A $483,950 federal grant helped pay for a system where these creatures break down most of the nitrogen in water used to flush out dairy stalls. The partners aim to reduce the risk of water and air pollution. READ MORE

Published in Dairy

February 21, 2017 – Livestock farmers face many challenges. One of the most daunting is deciding where to apply manure during the winter months.

Rumors and fears about winter spreading bans have been circulating for years. The major concern with winter application of manure is losing manure nutrients in surface runoff from fields. Michigan State University Extension encourages farmers to be aware of different tools and practices that can minimize potentially negative effects associated with winter manure application, especially those that farm in priority watersheds such as the Western Lake Erie Basin and Saginaw Bay watersheds.

A conservation practice that farmers can implement to minimize manure runoff while capturing manure nutrients is to spread on fields that have a cover crop. Cover crops can capture and hold onto the manure so that it is less likely to leave the field. This practice may decrease the risk of manure nutrients running off into surface waters or leaching through field tiles. Cover crops can uptake the manure nutrients in the spring for an early growth. This not only means healthier plants but it also decreases the likelihood of nitrogen leaching through the soil and getting into groundwater. Another benefit may be an increase in biomass production, which equates to an increase in organic matter. Cover crops can improve soil health and less fertilizer may be needed for crop production.

If you would like to learn more about cover crops, the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) is holding its annual business meeting followed by a one-day conference this year in Michigan. The MCCC conference will be held on March 15, 2017 at the Crowne Plaza 5700 28th Street SE. Grand Rapids, MI 49546. The MCCC business meeting will precede the conference on March 14. This event is an opportunity for farmers, researchers, educators, agency personnel, NGOs and agribusiness to learn from one another about the latest information in successful cover cropping. Michigan State University Extension is hosting the meeting and conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Making Cover Crops Work – Experiences from the Field.” In addition to joint sessions on cover crop termination and inter-seeding of cover crops, three concurrent sessions will feature cover crop use in field crops, vegetable crops and forage/grazing systems. CCA and RUP credits are pending. Exhibitors providing cover crop and other ag-related services will be present. Register on the MCCC annual meeting page.

A new tool is in the toolbox for Michigan livestock producers to use when making decisions on when and where to spread manure. The MSU EnviroImpact Tool is part of the Michigan Manure Management Advisory System that was been developed through a partnership between National Weather Service/NOAA, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Water Research, Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension. The MSU EnviroImpact Tool provides maps showing short-term runoff risks for daily manure application planning purposes; taking into account factors including precipitation, temperature, soil moisture and landscape characteristics. Anyone that is handling and applying livestock manure in Michigan can use this tool to determine how risky it will be spread manure on his/her fields.

The MSU EnviroImpact Tool is currently under development and will be available soon. Livestock producers, manure applicators and others are encouraged to preview the tool and provide feedback. If you interested in accessing the tool and providing feedback, please contact either Shelby Burlew, MSU Extension, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Jason Piwarski, MSU Institute of Water Research, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for access to the tool’s website.          

For more information on which cover crops will be the best for your farm and practices that will help protect water quality contact Christina Curell, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Published in Dairy

February 20, 2017, Champaign, IL – A University of Illinois agriculture professor believes technology is changing the way farmers view manure.

Professor Richard Gates not only runs the “Manure Central Program" — sort of an online market for the manure trade — but offers mobile phone applications for farmers to manage their manure inventory, as well. READ MORE

Published in Other

February 3, 2017, Des Moines, IA – There should be no concern Iowa farmers are using too much manure on crop ground.

Dan Andersen, an agriculture engineer at Iowa State University, said between 25 and 30 percent of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needs are provided through manure usage. READ MORE

Published in Swine

January 30, 2017, Madison, WI – Wisconsin is known as America's dairy land – more than one-third of all the cows in America live on some 3,000 farms in the state. Those bovine residents contribute to a thriving dairy industry, but milk is not the only thing that they produce in prodigious quantities. That many cows inevitably leads to a significant amount of manure, and managing that organic waste is an important problem for everyone living in the state.

"It is a horribly complex problem and we all contribute to it and are affected by it," says Victor Zavala, the Richard H. Soit assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Farms generate the manure and we are all affected by its environmental impacts. But manure production is driven by strong economic forces originating from urban areas that demand dairy products."

Phosphorus runoff from manure causes algal blooms in water bodies. Manure also releases pathogenic bacteria and methane gas. Technologies do exist to process organic waste, while at the same time recovering valuable products such as biogas and struvite for fertilizer; but these technologies are expensive and affordable only for large farms.

Yet, deciding on a suitable solution involves much more than technology cost alone: Where to locate manure processing plants, how to transport the waste, and who should pay for the equipment are all challenging questions. With so many competing interests, no single individual can realistically keep track of all the costs, benefits, and constraints.

"This problem is too complex. You need to find simpler and more direct ways to explain the interactions between social, economic and technology aspects to people making decisions," says Zavala.

Conflicting stakeholder interests complicate the problem further; most of the time such conflicts arise unnecessarily because of a lack of data about technology and logistical constraints.

A decision-making framework can help people to better grasp the large number of factors that need to be considered and to narrow down the options to a few potential solutions – and Zavala and his colleagues are developing such a framework to help people reach agreements in complex and potentially controversial decisions such as manure management. By systematically quantifying costs, environmental impacts, and people's opinions and priorities, these tools can help lead to compromise solutions that maximize collective stakeholder satisfaction.

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Dane County in Wisconsin, Zavala is creating decision-making frameworks that government and industry can use to identify optimal strategies to tackle the manure management problem.

"We are hoping that with this framework, we can have a more informed negotiation process. Instead of just telling stakeholders what they should do, we want to provide better frameworks for people to negotiate on what the manure management infrastructure would do," says Zavala, who is leading the effort along with Rebecca Larson, an assistant professor of biological and systems engineering at UW-Madison.

Importantly, the researchers will include quantitative measures of stakeholders' satisfaction in their models to ensure that the opinions of all groups – rural and urban communities, farmers, politicians, environmental regulators, and scientists alike – are heard and considered.

"We try to come up with fair solutions that please as many stakeholders as possible, with the important observation that you will very rarely be able to please everyone," says Zavala. "The framework can also be used to inform stakeholders on how their opinions influence (or not) the final decision. That is a powerful piece of information."

In related research, Zavala and colleagues recently completed a project on organic waste management in Dane County, WI. That team included UW-Madison/UW Extension collaborators from the Departments of Biological Systems Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Soil Science, and Water Resources Management. Funding for the project was provided by Dane County. The team's analysis of the livestock in the Upper Yahara Watershed study area indicates an excess of up to nearly double the manure phosphorus in comparison to crop uptake. The level of excess indicates a need to redistribute the manure outside the study area.

Published in Dairy

January 23, 2017, Stephenville, TX – Dr. Eunsung Kan sees his concept of a closed-loop dairy farm – which reuses wastewater, emits zero waste and powers itself on manure – as the future of sustainable animal farming.

Dr. Kan, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research chemical and environmental engineer in Stephenville, said his concept could change the way dairies, swine and poultry farms deal with manure, wastewater and greenhouse gasses while utilizing the waste to generate electricity.

Animal waste is a blessing and curse for dairies.

Manure is sold to local farmers who need to infuse nutrients into the soil for crops and forage. However, tons of manure can also be logistically taxing as facilities keep up with the treatment and distribution of large quantities of environmentally problematic materials monitored by state and federal environmental regulators.

Farm operations have been implicated in higher-than-normal levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, antibiotics, heavy metals and hormones in surface and groundwater downstream from facilities. Manure is also a known contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane and carbon dioxide.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates manure from a dairy milking 200 cows can produce as much nitrogen as is in the sewage from a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people.

Dr. Kan’s research would utilize existing technology – biochar, a carbon material similar to charcoal, created from animal manure and agricultural waste, such as corn stubble or rice straw – that would be used to filter solid waste and effluent. The biochar could be used as a slow-release fertilizer or converted, via pyrolysis, which is the decomposition of organic material by heat, into energy to power the farm.

The closed-loop dairy concept focuses on three main goals – wastewater treatment using dairy manure-derived biochar, producing bioenergy using dairy manure and capturing greenhouse gasses via adsorption onto dairy manure-derived biochar, Dr. Kan said.

Biochar has proven to provide a beneficial surface chemistry that can filter a wide range of contaminants, including nitrogen and phosphorous, he said. When the surface of biochar is modified with several methods in a lab, it has shown an ability to capture antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, heavy metals and other possible contaminants.

“The mission is the treatment and reuse of dairy wastewater and the conversion of dairy waste into energy to power the facility,” he said. “It focuses on providing a model for sustainable farming.”

Last year, Dr. Kan received a $1 million grant from the Texas A&M University Chancellor’s Research Initiative Fund to research the viability of the closed-loop dairy system. Before joining AgriLife Research, he also received about $400,000 in research grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Geological Survey to research the concept’s potential to treat animal waste, control greenhouse gas emissions and convert manure to energy.

The closed-loop dairy is a relatively simple concept, Dr. Kan said.

Cows produce manure, which when mixed with remnants of local crops, can become a seemingly endless supply of filtering material, fertilizer and energy.

Columns filled with biochar would act as a water purification system that filters nitrogen, phosphorous and other contaminants from liquid as it passes through, Dr. Kan said.

“The affluent from the column would then be very low in nitrogen and phosphorous,” he said. “If we filter to low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus it wouldn’t cause any environmental problem.”

The biochar used to filter nitrogen and phosphorous could then be used as slow-release fertilizer that provides needed nutrients to plants and would not wash away as runoff from heavy rains. In addition, biochar immobilized with photocatalysts would decompose toxic contaminants to harmless products when irradiated by exposure to ultraviolet light.

For instance, Dr. Kan’s study has shown that a biochar immobilized with photocatalysts completely degraded antibiotic and hormone compounds while effectively controlling pathogens. The potential for biochar’s use to filter wastewater goes beyond agriculture and could be applied at any wastewater treatment plant, or even to filter contaminants in injection water used in the petroleum industry for fracking.

For energy, dairy manure would be fed into a pyrolysis reactor on site that would use relatively low heat, 500 to 1,000 Fahrenheit, to create compressed hydrogen and carbon monoxide syngas that can be used to create electric power, Dr. Kan said. Excess electricity could be sold to local utility companies. The byproduct from pyrolysis of dairy manure is biochar.

“The principle is very simple,” Dr. Kan said. “The dairy would just need a different size reactor to meet its scale of manure output and energy needs.”

Dr. Sergio Capareda, an AgriLife Research agricultural engineer in College Station, proved the pyrolytic conversion of dairy manure to syngas and biochar from his USDA-funded project. Dr. Kan plans to advance this concept by biologically converting syngas to butanol and bio-jet fuel as alternative transportation fuels, and developing biochar-based processes for wastewater treatment and greenhouse gas control.

Several other researchers and engineers within the Texas A&M system are collaborating with Dr. Kan, and interest in the concept is growing among public institutions and private companies.

Dr. Kan will produce a lab-scale version of the closed-loop dairy to determine the necessary scale for application and experimentation at the neighboring Southwest Regional Dairy Center in Stephenville, a privately owned working dairy operated by Tarleton State University used for educational purposes. He hopes to have a system, including the pyrolysis reactor, operating at the dairy within three to four years.

“Having the dairy farm here provides a good opportunity for field data,” he said. “The field demonstrations will help us work out any problems that might arise at the various scales that might be applied by commercial animal farms.”

The dairy produces milk that is processed for consumption and into products such as cheese and yogurt and sold in local grocery stores.

Clay Dameron, the dairy’s waste manager, said between 300 to 400 cows are milked daily. Those cows produce manure and effluent that is treated via a conventional lagoon system. Around 90 to 130 tons of solids are moved to nearby croplands and pastures every three weeks where it’s used as fertilizer. Treated liquids from the lagoon are dispersed via sprinklers in nearby fields.

Dr. Kan said he believes the closed-loop system will prove to be a logistically and financially viable model for dairy producers to implement in the future. He expects his pilot project at the regional dairy to produce data that will draw more interest and investment from public institutions and private companies.

“It is very exciting,” he said. “I look forward to working with my collaborators and colleagues to make this concept a reality that could change the way dairies operate by providing a self-sustaining, environmentally friendly model.”

CUTLINE

 

Published in Dairy
Page 1 of 18

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