Manure can be real money-saver

By Robert Hagevoort: Ag Sense

Dairies nowadays are in the process of producing M & M & M. Milk and milk and milk you might say, or as we say, “Have you had your three-a-day yet?” Milk product servings that is.

Well that’s one way of looking at it, however I am referring to three different Ms;

Milk of course is the number one product on a dairy, and the main income stream for the dairyman.

Meat is the second M that seems obvious; cows that are sold because of age or due to low production then enter the food supply as “What’s for dinner?”

But a new M is a possible source of income for an industry looking to increase revenue in times of increased feed costs, skyrocketing fuel and energy costs and dwindling margins. That third M is what is left behind — the manure, good old fertilizer.
That fertilizer still contains a significant amount of energy. Why now you ask? Well, $70-plus dollar per barrel oil prices are the driver for “cow power.”

In Curry and Roosevelt counties, dairies historically have worked together with their neighboring farmers to utilize the manure as a natural fertilizer, a process that man has used for eons ever since we quit being hunter-gatherer people. Nowadays a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan makes sure that what is applied to the land is balanced with the uptake by the crops being grown. It is a process regulated and monitored through the New Mexico Environment Department.

There are several ways manure can be converted to energy. There is composting, anaerobic digestion and thermochemical conversion processes such as combustion, pyrolysis, gasification and direct liquefaction. These are really just a bunch of fancy words for manure-to-energy conversion processes utilizing nature’s way of decomposing organic matter, pretty much like in your backyard compost pile, but in the process capturing the energy being released.

The most energy efficient and environmentally friendly way would be through gasification, not anaerobic digestion, as has been proposed in other areas of the country where we are dealing with highly liquid manure. With gasification, we can even use alternative feed stocks such as restaurant grease, tree clippings or even tumble weeds in this process to make energy. Imagine that. We actually might be able to save some landfill space, and we all know that there ain’t no shortage of tumble weeds in our part of the country.

Dairy farmers in eastern New Mexico are in the process of forming local cooperatives to deal with the centralized collection and processing of manure to produce cow power, either as natural gas or steam.

These can be used as alternative energy sources by fellow industries such as cheese plants or ethanol plants, which are under a mandate to increase their level of alternative or green energies in the next 10-15 years.

Did you ever think that Betsy the Holstein could possibly warm your house or drive your car? Think again.

Robert Hagevoort is extension dairy specialist at New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. He can be reached at 985-2292 or by e-mail at dairydoc@nmsu.edu