Composting is one of the best management practices Valley dairies have to handle their manure; and compost is in demand. “Manure compost is a natural fertilizer and widely used as more farms go organic,” says Laurie Crowe, District Coordinator/Livestock Nutrient Management Specialist at South Yakima Conservation District.
Dairies are now producing manure as organic compost, exporting 60-70% out of the Valley and the demand is growing. “”The composting process reduces manure volume and weight making it more efficient to haul,” she says, “and in many cases the cost for transporting it is eliminated when organic growers take a load of compost and return it to the dairy farmer with a load of feed, much like old fashioned farm-barter arrangements.”
Russ Davis of Walla Walla-based manure recycling company Organix says his company found a market for a good quality compost product in Seattle, Spokane, Boise and Portland. “Chemical fertilizers don’t replenish the soil – they just feed the plants, while compost allows us to start feeding the soil again so it can retain water and release nutrients. It is a much better and healthier system than using chemicals.” Organix currently provides more than 20 dairy clients in south central Washington with manure nutrient by-product and recycling services – converting manure into an asset. Organix also provides compost testing and organic certifications, and compost spreading for agricultural customers.
“The chemical fertilizers do a good job but not so much from the soil preservation aspect of farming,” Davis said, “but the market for dairy compost is larger than the supply.” A growing number of consumers want organic fruits and vegetables. As consumers learn more about organic farming the use of organic fertilizers such as manure compost is expected to increase.
The Rotary Club of downtown Seattle has more than 600 business members who meet weekly. They recently invited Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes, co-authors of COWED: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment, to speak to the group.
Representatives from the Dairy Farmers of Washington and WSDA were present. In the question-and-answer period, third-generation Enumclaw dairy farmer Leann Krainick addressed the authors and the 450+ Rotarians present. She and her husband Mike own a dairy that produces conventional milk and operates as a highly sustainable farm by not only composting dairy cow manure for bedding, but bagging it for sale at retail garden stores.
Krainick told the authors “Our dairy has 1,100 cows. We practice a high degree of sustainability; we get spent grain from breweries that otherwise would be sent to landfills. We take all the manure to compost, for use as cow bedding and soil for garden centers. This takes a whole lot of money.”
Gail Boyer answered that “It’s terrific to try to be sustainable. It’s going to be hard. There is a burgeoning organic dairy farm industry in Washington state. It’s much harder with 1,000 cows. You have to make a bottom line. What we’re trying to do is make it an honest bottom line.”
Krainick then noted that 330,000 pounds of American powdered milk are shipped every day to China and India. “We have the cheapest and also the safest food supply in the world,” she said. “If we take your model, what is going to be the economic impact to my farm and my industry? And what are you going to tell those people in China?”
Denis Hayes replied that “A lot of what is sent to China is mixed with water that is in terrible shape,” and that “China is moving aggressively toward a high degree of self-sufficiency and the American dairy industry won’t be affected as much as the beef industry.”
More than 300 scientists, industry experts and dairy farmers are meeting in Seattle, March 30 to April 3, to share and learn about latest practices and protocols in animal agriculture and environmental sustainability at the Waste to Worth Conference: Advancing Sustainability in Animal Agriculture. The conference is a biennial project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center (LPELC) of eXtension, a communications collaborative for land-grant universities.
According to Dr. Joe Harrison, Washington State University Department of Animal Sciences professor and one of the conference co-chairs, this year’s conference will include 170 presentations during the four-day event; plus dairy farm tours to see anaerobic digestion systems at work converting manure into nutrient-rich compost.
Steve George, representing the Yakima Dairy Federation, says the conference is a good way to hear “hard data” about what is going on around the country. “One of our biggest challenges is getting the word out to regulators, media and the public about facts rather than fictions concerning dairy operations,” he says; “so it is very helpful to hear from dairy specialists and scientists who are working on dairy issues on a daily basis and understand it.”
At a recent meeting of the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency, findings from a USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) study were presented to suggest that Yakima Valley dairies are illegally mishandling their dairy cow manure.
The study, however, was conducted in 1992 – so the information is outdated and does not take into account new technologies associated with manure management and manure composting, nor the tremendous growth in manure exports out of the county. Scientists, third-party experts and other authorities often complain about outdated information being presented as current “news” to discredit an industry and/or advance a cause.
The NRCS survey’s data are 23 years old. Today, Valley dairies compost 75% of the manure produced here. And they are investing heavily in anaerobic digesters that convert methane into biogas and centrifuge-equipped manure separators that screen out almost all solid material – greatly reducing the local industry’s environmental impact.
Steve George representing the Yakima Dairy Federation sent the 2000-published NRCS report to Dr. Joe Harrison, a WSU professor and livestock nutrient management specialist, for his assessment and an opinion as to its relevance in 2015. Dr. Harrison was familiar with the 2000 report and uses it as a “baseline” teaching aid to illustrate how much things have improved in the intervening quarter-century.
“The report’s model or structure is valid; however, its age makes estimates questionable,” Harrison said. “As is always with such types of data, there can be inaccurate estimates as the data they used were collected during the 1990s.”
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