Laurie Crowe, District Coordinator for South Yakima Conservation District (SYCD), says most Lower Valley dairies separate cow manure solids from liquid through earthen settling basins, mechanical separators or a combination of the two. “The process decreases odor and converts manure solids into nutrient rich compost,” she says, “with about 75% of the Valley’s dairy farm operations producing compost for export out of the county.”
“There is a huge difference between a lagoon that treats manure nutrients constantly, 365 days a year, and a temporary 120 day waste storage pond that is emptied throughout the summer,” she said, “with every dairy having at least two storage ponds or settling basins that meet standards set by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).”
Tom DeVries, owner of DeVries Family Farms in Moxee and president of the Yakima Dairy Federation, has been working cooperatively with the SYCD and NRCS for more than a decade. “Laurie has done a great job of providing information and working with us to ensure our storage lagoons met NRCS standards,” he says. “Every time I had an issue they stepped up to help with expertise providing a real benefit to the dairy industry’s efforts to manage cow manure nutrients.”
“We have been monitoring and taking drinking water readings for the past ten years,” he continued. “NRCS helped us verify specifications for the clay-lined nutrient storage ponds we constructed and we have seen no leakage.”
Valley dairies retain – or in many cases employ full time – large animal veterinarians, hydrologists and soil/crop agronomists to manage their 24/7/365 farm operations. Long time Central Washington board certified agronomist Stu Turner, who works with several Valley dairies, says farmers are committed to the environment by making ongoing operational improvements with applied science-based processes; and investing in state-of-the-art equipment such as centrifuge separator machines.
“Centrifuge equipment is not the answer for all dairy farmers. But for the dairy operations looking to relocate nutrients it works very well because it captures more nutrients from the [manure] solid stream and results in cleaner water,” he said. “Although the system can require the farmer to invest up to $1 million it moves the dairy closer to being a natural recycler as part of the farm’s integrated nutrient management system.”
The centrifuge machine with its PLC controls is integrated into the farm’s overall manure management system to separate finer manure nutrient particles from the liquid. Experts say nothing does the job better for capturing more of the nutrient value from high volume manure solids. Cleaner water from the centrifuge machine is recycled for use on the dairy, allowing the farm to conserve valuable Valley fresh water.
Supporting dairy farmers with manure management equipment is big business for Lynden-based DariTech, a leading provider of dairy manure systems including sales, installation and maintenance of decanter centrifuge systems. “Every dairy operates differently so we custom design systems to meet the needs of each dairy farm operation,” says DariTech project manager Josh McCort. “The centrifuge improves efficiency and speed to extract settleable solids from the manure management process, which in turn makes the water recyclable for flushing the dairy or sprinkler irrigation.”
By Dan DeGroot
The Yakima Valley’s robust dairy industry will continue as dairy farmers across the country and in the Yakima Valley embrace education, technology and the development of by-products to improve their farm operations in sustainable ways.
Since the Dairy Nutrient Management Act was enacted in 1998, each of Washington’s 480 dairies have developed plans and worked to implement them as a way to avoid over-application of fertilizers; mitigate elevated nitrate content in groundwater; and inspire the development of manure byproducts, such as nutrient-rich compost.
The nutrient plans are not permits but road maps for dairy farmers to use to manage manure nutrients on an on-going basis, rain or shine. From the initial startup 17 years ago, the progress dairy farmers have made is significant, say regulators, but we are not done by a long shot. Improvements in storage ponds, collecting silage leachate, conveyance or export of manure nutrients, and better record keeping are among the areas where dairy farmers are enhancing operations for sustainability.
The modern dairy farm is much different than only a few years ago, largely attributable to better educated farmers and technology. The industry-supported Dairy Nutrient Management Act requires all dairy farmers to pay attention to how they are farming, what they are doing, and why. The more dairy farmers understand environmental issues surrounding their operations, the better job they do of managing and of taking their Dairy Nutrient Management Plan seriously.
For those who have opted to stay in the dairy business, education is a big part of their ongoing operations – creating a far more knowledgeable farming community that is trying to do things the right way. During more than 30 years as a dairy farmer, I’ve seen a lot of change and, as Northwest Dairy Association and Darigold board member and a former Washington State Dairy Commissioners, I have had the opportunity to learn from others about the importance of modern dairy farm “best management practices.” As I talk with other dairy farmers, no one wants to do things the wrong way.
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.