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Where alternative energy and livestock intersect

Where alternative energy and livestock intersect
Producing alternative energy on livestock operations can make great use of natural resources.

By Darrell Boone

After several years of being battered and bloodied, is Indiana's livestock sector—the original value-added enterprise – ready for a comeback? Indiana Soybean Alliance's livestock director Andy Tauer believes that's a real possibility. Ag Extension economists at Purdue University agree as well.

Related: Renewable Energy Project Turns Manure Into Fuel

"In Indiana we're hearing a lot of interest in people getting into pork, dairy, and even poultry," Tauer says. "And there's even some interest in beef feedlots moving back into the upper Midwest."

Turn 'ugly' into 'good': Andy Tauer believes modern livestock producers can turn manure from an 'ugly' byproduct into a low-odor, income producer through digesters.

Tauer added that there were some pretty solid reasons for considering returning to the traditional crop-livestock mix, including an improved profitability outlook, diversification, and risk management. Another less obvious, but compelling argument can also be made for adding another resource that inevitably accompanies livestock—manure.

"We've learned that manure's no longer a waste product, but rather a valuable commodity," he says. "Banks are even starting to pencil in the value of manure in the pits and lagoons. And in an age where 'locally grown' is big, what's better than 'locally grown nutrients?' Wouldn't it be better to get your N, P, and K from down the road than from mines around the world?"

Manure digesters that produce either electricity or gas to power vehicles is one the latest opportunities for those who invest in relatively large-scale manure operations.

But with opportunities come challenges, and this is not your grandfather's way of getting back into livestock. Today that entails larger operations, manure application regs from IDEM and the State Chemist's Office, and neighbors who may be more than a little concerned about a new livestock venture passing the sniff test.

Related: Construction Begins On Hog Manure Biogas Project

Tauer says the latter, in particular, is the biggest challenge in siting a new barn. He also says that's why digesters need to become more common and more affordable. They typically result in considerably less odor than traditional manure disposal systems.

"We need more research to figure out how to make these technologies cost effective to smaller farms," he says. "We need to see counties, power companies, and universities working together. These need to be scalable."

Boone writes form Wabash. Look for more on alternative energy sources for agriculture in Boone's article in the April edition of Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine.

TAGS: Soybeans
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