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Manure

See what farms are using for nutrient management, from anaerobic digesters and storage to field application and emissions.

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When you travel through Vermont, tree-lined farms and hills dominate the landscape. Throughout this patchwork lies hundreds of producers that, until now, have been cut off from the advancing world of manure digestion, simply because people have said their operations are just too small. With the backing of a renewable energy company, Avatar, and a desire to prove everyone wrong, Dr. Guy Roberts is about to change the face of anaerobic digestion and its implications for smaller operations.

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Agricultural practices have become more intensive to provide for the nutritional needs of an increasing human population and as a response to economic pressures on individual farms. Higher production levels are possible on farms through the use of chemically fixed fertilizer and feeds imported to farms from other regions. However, such practices also may increase the potential for losses of reactive nitrogen to air and water.

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What started out as a small, high interest conference, National Compost Dairy-Barn Conference, for dairymen quickly burgeoned into an international group with wide-ranging interest in composting in dairy barns. More than 150 attendees participated.

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A well-designed manure storage facility must also be well managed to prevent environmental concerns from developing. Probably the single most important requirement in operating and maintaining a manure storage facility is to ensure that the facility does not overflow or discharge. Discharges from manure storage facilities may violate local, state or federal regulations, result in large fines or penalties and, at the very least, represent a potential environmental hazard.

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For the management team at Top Deck Holsteins, the idea of putting in a digester with the help of Alliant Energy, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University Extension ended up being a no-brainer. It provided a way to reduce odors, and now waste heat from the system has been used to maintain the mesophilic temperatures of the digester while a heat loop to the milking parlor preheats water and heats the inside of the parlor in the winter. From the outset it seemed like a winning situation, and in every respect it was. What has happened since has become the icing on an ever-growing big brown cake to the side of the digester . . .

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It began just over 10 years ago as a way for local dairyman John Reitsma to deal with an excess of manure and nutrients his herd was producing. With its humble beginning in Jerome, Idaho, Magic Valley Compost has grown to become one of the largest composting companies in the nation. In 2004, the original company was bought out by a group of agriculture businessmen operating as Healthy Earth Enterprises, LLC. Its operations now work with sixteen dairies contributing to 39 compost yards throughout the Magic Valley in south-central Idaho.

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