Investments Across Fields

Every steak has the carbon equivalent of a tank of gas so it would be healthier for the climate, our hearts and of course the cows to avoid it altogether. But since the US remains big consumers of meat and dairy, farmers have found additional value in their manure that is a step in the right direction. Most farmers recycle the nutrients from cow manure by spreading it back on the fields. The manure fertilizes the crops so they will grow and create more food for the cows and thus more milk for humans. They call this process a closed loop, where the nutrients are used and reused in a continuous circle. Ecologically speaking, it is a good system but manure creates odors and methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, about 30 times more potent than CO2.

Companies like Farm Power insert a methane digester’s into a dairy farmer’s existing nutrient loop, so that all the raw manure is processed and then sent to the farmer for use on his fields. Instead of releasing methane into the atmosphere, however, they have captured it for use as biogas. When they burn the captured methane, it creates electricity that they sell to the utility company. Methane digesters are considered carbon offsets, as they create large net reductions in greenhouse gases and can attract investment from companies trying to balance their carbon footprint with development projects. Cows eating kelp is another creative way to reduce methane emissions but more on that later.

In addition carbon farming and field rotation can store carbon in the soils which each % of Co2 held in the soil increases it’s capacity to hold water by 10%. Carbon farming is an important technological solution to keep farms viable and the atmosphere safe.

“Feeding time in the free stall heifer barns at Brubaker Farms, which is both a diary and green energy producer in Mount Joy, PA on March 19, 2011. The family farm owned by Luke, Mike and Tony Brubaker has approximately 850 cows and 700 young stock, producing 20,200,000 pounds of milk last year. It has 13 full-time employees and more than 1,500 acres of farmland. Their methane digester was made possible with a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant that provided a cost-share of the digester purchase. It can handle more than 41,859 metric tons of organic waste, to capture methane gas that fuels a low emission generator producing 225 kW. This powers the digester itself and farm operations. Excess power is sold to the local power grid, allowing the community to benefit from a green energy source. After producing methane, effluent from the digester is pressed to separate liquid and solid materials. The farm uses the liquids in fertilizer; and solids become the cowsÂ’ bedding for Brubaker and other local farms, that is cleaner than sawdust. The bedding saves the farm approximately $30,000 per year. Mount Joy residents can enjoy the fact that the process removes 90% of the odor from the cow manure. The methane itself is odorless and colorless. The system can accept an additional 2,600 gallons of food waste per day from local sources that would otherwise dispose of it in a local landfill. Additionally, their nutrient credits can be sold to the local municipality to help it to meet federal requirements and to keep sewer bills from rising. This provides additional revenue for the farm, and creates environmentally friendly community partnerships. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.”