Methane from manure: An income stream to consider

John Hibma for Progressive Dairy Published on 02 November 2020

Manure is a fact of life on the dairy farm. Sooner or later, every dairy is confronted with added costs associated with managing and disposing of manure.

And, even though manure is universally accepted as an indispensable source of plant nutrients and soil amendments, it’s generally regarded as a nuisance that most dairy farmers would gladly avoid if it were possible.

Ironically, though, for all the challenges associated with manure, there’s a positive side to this organic substance, as a source of renewable energy that goes well beyond its traditional use as a fertilizer. Slow to emerge, there is a growing industry focused on collecting and marketing the biomethane produced by the anaerobic fermentation of manure.

Capturing methane on dairies is certainly not a new concept. Industries have recognized the marketable value of this renewable energy source for decades. However, building facilities and processing biogas is a complex and expensive undertaking – something most dairy farms do not have the funds, time or expertise to do. Dairy farms find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they continue to struggle financially in an industry with chronically low milk prices and the trend to grow herd sizes to attain greater efficiencies and economies of scale. More cows means more poop that must to be stored, managed, processed and disposed of in a more stringent regulatory environment.

Companies specializing in mitigating challenges posed by agricultural waste are now partnering with dairy farms. Vanguard Renewables located in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is one such company that is working with dairy farms across the nation in developing systems to solve organic waste disposal challenges, while at the same time producing renewable natural gas that will generate an income stream. This is a win-win for the dairy industry, as it dramatically reduces methane being released into the atmosphere.

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