As the population grows, fertilizers for crops and pasture grass are increasingly in demand. Third generation dairy farmer Mark DeJong co-manages his family’s farm with a staff of eleven. The DeJong family’s Eaglemill Farm near Lynden takes environmental stewardship seriously by producing some of the most nutrient rich compost fertilizer in Whatcom County.
“We installed a manure separator that produces all natural compost that builds organic material and nutrients in the ground for better production,” he says. “Although it is not a money maker, it is an economic model to export the manure nutrients as an important dimension of our farm plan by showing a good balance sheet of manure nutrients that we are exporting off the farm.”
Demand for separated livestock manure compost is high and will likely grow or maintain over time. Organic cow manure is a nutrient that helps crops and pasture grass production over longer durations before the need for reapplication because of its slow release of nutrients. “Dairy cow manure is a nutrient-rich, all natural fertilizer that holds moisture in the soil and reduces erosion more effectively than synthetic or chemical fertilizers,” says Dr. Pius Ndegwa, Washington State University Biological Systems Engineering School Associate Professor and livestock manure specialist. “We are working with dairy farmers to develop channels to apply nutrient-rich manure as compost fertilizer for the production of crops and pastures at appropriate agronomic rates to protect groundwater quality.”
The Vander Haak Dairy near Lynden, WA, was recently presented with the Outstanding Achievement in Renewable Energy Award by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, as part of its 3rd Annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards. Washington is unique in having won four U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in the three-year history of the program.
In addition to the Vander Haak Dairy, previous recipients include Skyridge Farms in Sunnyside, Werkhoven Dairy near Monroe, and Seattle-based Darigold Inc. for Outstanding Dairy Processing & Manufacturing Sustainability.
The awards recognize dairy farms, dairy industry businesses and collaborative partnerships that are committed to stewardship and sustainability, delivering exceptional results that are good for business, good for the environment and good for local communities.
The first DVO, Inc Two-Stage Mixed Plug FlowTM anaerobic digester was developed in 2001 to convert methane from manure into biogas to fuel an engine that generates electric power. Newer digester systems can also clean or scrub the biogas to produce natural gas. Other byproducts are produced, including bedding for cows – a peat moss-like fiber product – and odor free natural fertilizers. Since 2001, 100 digesters, many now co-digesting food waste and manure, have been installed in 16 states with more under construction. Ferndale-based Andgar Corporation specializes in construction/project management, and partnered with DVO, Inc in 2004. Andgar has since installed 13 systems in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and their latest install in California.
Although digestion system technology hasn’t changed much in the past decade, digesters now have more sophisticated monitoring and efficiencies including the addition of food waste to help make the systems more viable economically as digester systems become more common in the U.S.
According to Eric Powell, Andgar digester system coordinator, food waste makes more gas than manure alone and creates another income stream for the dairy farmer. “Digester owners charge a fee that is less than the cost of restaurants and other food waste producers taking pre-consumer food waste to a landfill,” he says.”We are in the business of developing digester systems, constructing, operating and maintaining them to make every project economically viable.”
Dairy farms operate on razor thin margins, so the digester system has to be viable from a business standpoint. Due to the availability of inexpensive electric power in the Northwest digester systems are more economically viable for larger dairy operations, compared to smaller operations with fewer cows.
Food banks in Washington and Oregon received 91,675 lbs. pounds of donated food (including $16,250 cash donations equivalent to 65,000 lbs.*) from the 2nd Annual NW Farmers Fighting Hunger Cash/Food Drive during June dairy month.
This year the two states generated a total of 91,675 pounds of food (food+cash equivalent), compared to last year’s combined total of 58,052 pounds – an increase of 33,623 lbs.
The cash/food drive is a nine-way partnership between: Oregon Dairy Products Commission, Washington Dairy Products Commission, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Oregon Food Bank Network, Food Lifeline, Second Harvest, and Fred Meyer.
Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.