Growing Hemp With Digestate

DECEMBER 1, 2020 | AD & BIOGAS, GENERAL | Nora Goldstein


Bar-Way Farm utilizes digestate to fertilize the hemp crop it grows for Heritage Hemp CBD. Photos courtesy of Peter Melnik.

Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Massachusetts is a multigenerational dairy farm founded in 1919 and operated by Steven Melnik and his son, Peter. The farm encompasses 600 acres of cropland. More than 250 cows are milked each day. In 2016, Vanguard Renewables installed a CH Four Biogas 660,000-gallon capacity anaerobic digester to codigest 9,125 tons of manure and 36,500 tons of food waste annually. Vanguard Renewables delivers the food waste as a slurry, which is blended with manure and loaded into the digester. Bar-Way Farm receives a lease payment, along with low-cost energy and free heat and hot water captured from the CHP engine.

About 8 million to 10 million gallons/year of digestate are produced. Separated digested solids are used as bedding for the cows. Bar-Way Farm crops about 700 acres, and also rotates digestate applications with other area farmers. “We are trying to get close to having 1,000 acres available to spread the nutrients on,” explains Peter Melnik. “Depending on the field history and the nutrient load, digestate is applied at about 10,000 to 20,000 gallons/acre. Bar-Way Farm grows corn and hay for our dairy cows, and some butternut squash. And now we grow hemp.”

Segue To Hemp Production

The Pioneer Valley — the Massachusetts portion of the Connecticut River Valley where Bar-Way Farm is located — has some of the most fertile soil in the U.S., and, adds Melnik, a “really nice microclimate for growing all kinds of crops.” John Hanselman, CEO of Vanguard Renewables, notes that the Pioneer Valley was famous for growing shade tobacco that was used for Cuban cigars. “To this day, when you look at fancy Cuban cigars, they are wrapped in Pioneer Valley tobacco leaves,” says Hanselman. “This same soil and microclimate has attracted the CBD industry because it is a very good location to grow hemp.”

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