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The New Geography of Waste Organics Management: A Roadmap for Change in Nutrient Ecology

April 25, 2008  by Michael Byers

In the last column in Manure
Manager, I talked about the livestock system ecobalance and the need
for a new world in waste organics management. In this column, we’ll
continue to look at the whole new world that is going to be required

      In the last column in Manure Manager, I talked about the livestock system ecobalance and the need for a new world in waste organics management. In this column, we’ll continue to look at the whole new world that is going to be required

The end of the road for old waste “storage” systems 
    A storage mindset problem is at the root of animal waste issues. We evolved from a storage mentality. From the manure piles of yesteryear, we grew up with emitting N as N2O, to the lagoons and tank farms of today, emitting N as NH3 and N2, and with extensive VOC’s, odors, and CH4. The problem with “storing” manure is that it creates noxious animal waste from what was a fragile and unstable—but valuable—animal organics stream.

    Animal organics have a very short shelf life, and any planned storage, be it a lagoon or a tank structure, allows putrefactive microorganisms to transform the organic nutrients into problematic wastes and volatile noxious emissions.   

    In essence, storage became the problem rather than the solution. Storage may be for a season, a year or years, such as when a lagoon or dewatering facility sludges over time to the top and is out-cycled, with another put in to replace it.
    Combinations of technology are required in integrated systems to process animal organics into useful entities, and to contain all exiting streams, as further processed items. Livestock producers strive to achieve environmentally friendly enterprises. However, their toolbox to accomplish this has been limited. New tools and technologies are now emerging to foster this change, and a new roadmap and a new architecture are required to achieve successful integration of these tools into livestock production
The roadmap for food animal systems: navigation aids & technologies
A new paradigm is needed  

    Like replacing paper roadmaps with GPS, a cycling mentality needs to replace our current disposal “how do we get rid of it” mindset. This will allow new and creative solutions to emerge. Much of the technology being developed today still falls into the “get rid of” trap. We need to move on, as have most other industries before us. The output organics must be viewed with the same mindset as current marketable products. 


    The mega dairies we are currently developing and similar integrated livestock enterprises are perhaps best positioned, with resources and incentives to develop and integrate the total package of animal-environmental technologies to capture every organics output stream as a profit center. Following start-up of these enterprises, smaller footprint right-sized packages will quickly emerge, appropriate for animal enterprises of most sizes. Early adopters are usually the primary beneficiaries of a wave of technology change.

Emergence of integrated nutrient cycling and LCA
    Viewing nutrients as a cycle, rather than as an end, is a starting requirement. Designed-for-environment systems are needed, where a nutrient-cycle paradigm dominates. We recognize global cycles for water where we are drinking the same water the dinosaurs used. The same exists for other nutrients. 

    Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools must be employed in animal agriculture, as in other industries, to assess and limit the environmental effects of animal production enterprises. The LCA approach will foster strategies to better manage nutrients entering enterprises, to increase their inclusion in marketed products, and limit the potential for losses.

Process based solutions
    A shift in mindset from animal waste storage to animal organics processing will allow creative solutions to emerge. Transforming organics into something other than wastes requires integrated real-time processing, as these organics have a very short shelf life of minutes to hours to days, before they become wastes. Once they are waste, it’s too late.

     Integrated processing will be required, and using the sun in phototrophic organics processing (ie parallel to plant photosynthesis), along with production of methane and biofuels, are examples of technologies available.

    Green twinning of stabilized N in animal organics to crop production would shift over a billion dollars in lost bioactive nitrogen that animal agriculture now works very hard to get rid of, while reducing fossil fuels now needed for producing N fertilizer.

    Solutions need to yield profitable products, whether for further use in an enterprise or for development of other markets. The most profitable solutions will produce a range of products, with a focus on energy or compost or bedding or fertilizer alone yielding modest returns.  Unique solutions will evolve for unique animal agricultural environmental systems.   

    In future articles, we’ll look at concepts of how to devise the new roadmaps for animal agriculture, and then look at details and real-world examples of how to develop and implement these programs in successful technologically integrated enterprises. 

Dr F Michael Byers heads the Byers Communications International Consultancy in Animal Environmental Biosecurity. Building on over three decades of experience in animal nutritional and environmental management research leadership at Ohio State University, Texas A&M University, and as the Research Leader for the USDA ARS Animal Manure and Byproducts Lab at Beltsville MD, Dr Byers focuses on animal environmental biosecurity programs and projects.

He can be reached at


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