In recent years, scientists around the world have made great progress in their attempts to recycle cattle manure, including turning it into natural fertilizer and biogas, but Eindhoven designer, Jalila Essaïdi didn't think they were efficient enough to solve the global manure surplus problem.
So, she started on her very own solution, one that approached animal waste as a valuable material that could be processed into useful products. The results of her work prove that manure really is worth its weight in gold.
Working in her BioArtLab, Essaïdi discovered that cow manure provided both the base for a new, bio-degradable material and the chemicals required to produce it.
She started by separating the waste, with the dry manure used to extract pure cellulose from the grass that cows eat. From the wet manure, she extracted acids used to create cellulose acetate, a natural liquid plastic. This was used to make fibers, which are later turned into fabric or bio-plastics, but it can also be freeze-dried to create an aerogel.
The new material was named Mestic, from mest, the Dutch word for manure. Essaïdi claims that it has the same properties as plastic derived from fossil fuels, but is bio-degradable. Better yet, the degradability can be tweaked in the lab, making it possible to create materials that last for different periods of time depending on their purpose. READ MORE
The three projects with the university are supported by the $27 million Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP), to help the Canadian farming sector become a world leader in the development and use of clean and sustainable agricultural technologies and practices. These projects will also help farmers increase their understanding of GHG emissions.
The AGGP covers four priority areas of research: livestock systems, cropping systems, agricultural water use efficiency and agro-forestry.
"This is a significant investment in U of G research, innovation, and knowledge mobilization. All three of these projects will help improve life and protect our planet, from improving agroforestry practices, to developing crop fertilization methods that reduce emissions, to use of aerial devices to assess soil carbon levels and elevate precision agriculture," said Malcolm Campbell, Vice-President (research), University of Guelph
The new AGGP investments will continue to support the work of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, which brings together 47 countries to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions. READ MORE
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.
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.
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."
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."
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... ."
Tasked with helping Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) turn biogas into a more-refined form of natural gas, the team of Meryl Bloomfield, Heather Newell, K.J. Hafer and Dave Hansen saw that the state was among the nation's leaders in not only cattle population but in manure production.
Using an anaerobic digestion process, the team proposes turning that manure not only into fertilizer for crops but natural gas that NPPD could also use to create electricity that powers farms and rural communities across the state.
"Compared to other renewable energy sources – like wind and solar – biogas is more consistent," said Bloomfield. "Cows are always going to produce manure. You don't have to rely on having a sunny day or a windy day, especially In Nebraska, where wind and solar plants might not be as reliable as in Arizona and California."
According to The Cattle Network, Nebraska ranked second nationally in 2015 with approximately 6.3 million cattle or about seven percent of the U.S. population. One of the biggest uses of the manure produced by the cattle is the production of fertilizer.
The student team worked to develop a method that would allow the production of natural gas and still maintain a viable supply for fertilizer production. But that led to it expanding on its goal by proposing a solution that could be an economic boost to the rural community – a biogas upgrade refinery that would be strategically located near Broken Bow.
The refined natural gas from the Nebraska Biogas Upgrading Refinery would then be piped to NPPD's Canaday Station southeast of Lexington, where it could be used to create electricity.
"It would be centralized to where the cows are," Hansen said. "After designing the plant, we determined we'd need about a quarter of a million head of cattle to achieve the manure supply sufficient to reach the capacity NPPD is looking for.
The natural gas that would be similar to the gas used in homes across the country, Hansen said, except it would be collected as part of a natural process rather than relying on traditional means of extracting the gas – such as fracking or refining fossil fuels.
Newell also said the process would be more beneficial to the ecology.
"In doing this, we're reducing greenhouse gases from the cow manure that sits out and naturally becomes fertilizer," Newell said. "We're reducing the carbon dioxide and creating something useful from it."
Though their proposal isn't guaranteed to be implemented, Bloomfield said thinking about the human impact made this senior capstone experience valuable for the entire team.
"Knowing that it could be even a stepping stone to something for NPPD changed how we approached it," Bloomfield said. "When you're thinking theoretically, you can go a lot of different directions. When you're thinking about how it affects people and their lives, that's when it gets real."
"Livestock are significant emission contributors," says Dr. Sean McGinn of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a long-time researcher in the emissions area. "That's quite clear and generally recognized by the agricultural research community."
Fifty to 60 percent of feed nitrogen is lost as ammonia at the feedlot. Eight to 10 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture and 90 percent of the atmospheric ammonia comes from cattle manure. Ammonia in the atmosphere is an economic loss because the nitrogen fertilizer potential of manure is lowered. And it's a health hazard. Ammonia mixes with acid to form fine aerosols, the white haze seen in confined airsheds.
"We know beef feedlots are 'hot spots' of ammonia emissions on the landscape, but we didn't know as much about the dynamics of ammonia emissions from feedlots. For example we didn't have real numbers from actual feedlots on how much is emitted, how much is deposited on nearby soil and how much re-emission occurs when that happens."
That's what McGinn and his colleague Dr. Tom Flesch (University of Alberta) set out to understand. Backed by funding from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), a two-year project investigated the fate of nitrogen in feedlots, what amount is deposited on land downwind and how much is carried long distances.
The other part of their research involves measuring methane and nitrous oxide, two prominent greenhouse gasses. Methane is produced by cattle due to the anaerobic digestion of feed in the cow's rumen and both nitrous oxide and methane come from stored manure in the pens.
The research produced significant results on several fronts from techniques to measure on a commercial scale, to new information on transfer, deposits and re-emission to nearby lands, to related opportunities for mitigation and management.
New measuring techniques
One major positive outcome was the development of new measuring technology adapted from what has been used successfully for measuring flare emissions in the oil and gas industry.
Using open path lasers that move over the feedlot and calculate concentration and wind characteristics, the system is able to measure emissions regardless of wind direction.
Measuring in real world situations offers some significant advantages to the more standard research protocols of using animals in individual chambers to measure emissions, says McGinn.
This new technique evaluates the feedlot as a whole, which means it can consider whole-unit management aspects which impact emissions. Also, by keeping animals in their natural environment and not interfering with them in any way, the laser approach promises more accurate, commercial scale results.
On a bigger picture level, this means actual feedlot emission numbers can be used in greenhouse gas assessments, an improvement from past practices of using estimates from global sources.
Early results show surprises
One of the surprises learned from this study was the fact that a significant fraction of ammonia was deposited on the land adjacent to the feedlot and, once deposited, how much was reemitted into the atmosphere.
"Our results illustrate the dynamics of reactive ammonia in the vicinity of a beef cattle feedlot," says McGinn. "It confirmed that a large portion of the nitrogen fed as crude protein is volatized from the feedlot's cattle manure. In the local vicinity of a feedlot, both ammonia deposition (14 percent of the emitted ammonia) and reemission occurred. That 14 percent is a large amount considering a typical feedlot emits one to two tonnes of ammonia per day."
There was a change in the soil captured ammonia that decreased with distance from the feedlot (50 percent over 200 m).
Logically it follows that quantifying the local dry ammonia deposition to surrounding fields is required when applying feedlot-based emissions to a large-scale emissions inventory, says McGinn. Failure to do that could mean badly misrepresenting the real situation.
"We need better emissions numbers to anchor effective public policy and fairly represent the feedlot industry in that data pool," says McGinn. "It's important to have research done before policy is set. The U.S. cattle feeding industry already has specific ammonia emission targets in place."
Related scientific paper here: "Ammonia Emission from a Beef Cattle Feedlot and Its Dry Local Deposition and Re-Emission."
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
According to my youngest child, he’s just too darn healthy.
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
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
February 23, 2017, Green Bay, WI – In a new study of groundwater conditions in dairy farm-intensive Kewaunee County, researchers found higher levels of well contamination from cattle during wet weather events — when manure, rain and melting snow can seep quickly into the ground.
But the results also show that cattle in this northeastern county are not the only source of tainted drinking water. Human waste from sanitary systems is also polluting wells. READ MORE
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.
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
February 3, 2017, Des Moines, IA – There should be no concern Iowa farmers are using too much manure on crop ground.
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.
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World Pork Expo 2017Wed Jun 07, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Wisconsin Farm Technology Days 2017Tue Jul 11, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Empire Farm Days 2017Tue Aug 08, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Dakotafest 2017Tue Aug 15, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
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