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Make Manure Great Again: New Tech Challenge Aims to Put Animal Waste to Work

With involvement from World Wildlife Fund and The Yield Lab Institute, The Manure Challenge is exploring how know-how may also help us find an expedited pathway to making higher use of manure.

North Carolina is the second largest pork-producing location in the US, house to roughly eight.9 million hogs across 2,300 industrial pig farms–and their manure. To handle this large quantity of animal waste, farmers have designed hog houses with slatted floors that permit the manure to fall via the slats and into drains that carry it out of the house into large swimming pools referred to as hog lagoons. The manure slowly decomposes in the open-air pit turning into fertilizer over time.

When Hurricane Florence pummeled North Carolina in September 2018, hog farmers raced to drain their lagoons for worry that the acute winds and flooding would trigger large spills. When a hog lagoon ruptures, it could cause main human and environmental health issues including poisoned consuming water, phosphorous blooms in native waterways, spoilage of cropland, and the spread of pollutants like gasoline residue. The injury from a single hog lagoon rupture may be devastating, leading to lifeless wildlife and livestock.

North Carolina’s hog farms and other confined animal feeding operations produce 10 billion gallons of fecal waste annually, which might fill greater than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming swimming pools, in accordance to Environmental Working Group. North Carolina’s 100-year floodplain still include 62 confined animal feeding operations with over 235,000 hogs and 30 other operations house more than 1.eight million chickens. To capture the animals’ manure, 166 open-air lagoons sit immediately inside the floodplain whereas 366 extra lagoons sit inside 100 ft of the floodplain.

Hurricane Florence wasn’t the first time that North Carolina suffered an enormous statewide manure spill. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd wreaked havoc on the state pouring as much as two ft of rain in some regions inflicting lagoon walls to rupture and killing over 20,000 pigs.

However the widespread media coverage of Florence’s menace to North Carolina’s hog farms drew the general public’s consideration to a really smelly and very dangerous drawback in agricultural manufacturing — not the huge amount of manure that farmers manage annually, however the best way through which the manure is collected, dealt with, and disseminated.

Last yr, North Carolina residents filed public nuisance lawsuits towards Smithfield Meals and Murphy Brown alleging that the operations’ hog manure lagoons created a serious nuisance in the type of odors and potential health considerations. Three of the lawsuits ended in additional than $500 million being awarded to the plaintiffs.

The place Tech and Manure Collide

“Farms used to be more integrated systems, with pasture for animals to graze, crop production, and byproducts that went to the livestock. The manure was applied back to the land. It was a more balanced system compared to nowadays where crops are grown in other places, sometimes very far away. Liquid manure is too expensive and too hard to haul to a crop site and it may not consist of the right ratios,” Sandra Vijn, director, dairy, of sustainable meals at World Wildlife Fund, tells AgFunderNews.

“Circular farming is what we would like to see, which consists of many farmers applying manure back to the land and growing crops to feed humans, and the byproducts go to the animals who produce more manure to feed the crops. Nowadays, it’s broken. We want to bring those systems back and to bring back the nutrients to the farmland so that we can utilize them to the fullest extent.”

WWF is joining forces with The Yield Lab Institute, Newtrient, and Dairy Farmers of America to arrange a startup competition for answer suppliers that market manure-based services. By means of The Manure Challenge, the group is hoping to put manure-based product advertising on the map by choosing a gaggle of answer suppliers and guiding them via a commercialization curriculum coupled with mentorship and introduction to sources of capital.

Manure: a sacred input for some

For a lot of farmers, particularly those that rotationally graze their livestock and end animals on grass as an alternative of on feed in a feedlot, manure is a sacred enter that replenishes pastures, offers insight into each animal’s well being, and feeds organic matter within the soil making for rich and fertile ground.

However because the livestock industry turned heavily consolidated, so did the animals’ manure. Like hog production, poultry production is particularly rife with concentrations of manure as laying hens and meat birds are confined in giant houses till the day they are shipped to the processor. Even in almost emerged free-range manufacturing, the birds are stored in giant houses and supplied with limited access to the outdoors if that.

But manure management isn’t necessarily a problem of mega farms versus small farms either.

“Even small-scale dairy farmers have manure pits and lagoons with excess manure particularly in seasons where it cannot be applied to land. They have to find solutions to deal with that, so this challenge is also trying to help small-scale farmers.”

Many states have adopted manure management laws to make sure that manure is dealt with in a protected and environmentally acutely aware manner, forcing farmers to take sure actions relating to their animals every day output. These legal guidelines adopt quite a lot of options, reflecting essential steps to manure administration: assortment, storage, remedy, transfer, and utilization.

Manure could be stored dry and dealt with as solids, or liquified. Liquid manure might be digested anaerobically to produce biogas for power manufacturing. With no cowl, nevertheless, the liquid manure releases greenhouse gases into the environment. The most typical use of manure is as fertilizer on cropland or pastureland, however the industrialization of food manufacturing has put hundreds of miles between the places where livestock are raised and row crops are grown. There are additionally well being issues when making use of manure to human food crops.

Because farmers face regulatory strain to manage manure and in mild of the environmental implications, there have been a couple of industry-led tech-driven efforts, as properly.

California just lately awarded a $90 million grant to dairy tech startup CalBio to help the main dairy producing state meet its objective of decreasing methane emissions from the dairy and livestock industry by 40% by 2030. The funds shall be used to help advance using manure digesters on California dairy farms by building and operating an interconnection pipeline. The pipeline will transport biogas produced on farms to conversion amenities, the place it’s was Renewable Compressed Natural Fuel.

In 2018, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, launched a partnership with Florida startup Anuvia Plant Nutrients to convert the hog manure created by the corporate’s farming operations into fertilizer.

A Lot of Livestock Means a Lot of Manure–and A Lot of Untapped Value

AgriFood Tech has develop into a definite and rising sector, attracting a document $16.9 billion in enterprise capital funding final yr in accordance to AgFunder’s 2018 AgriFood Tech Investing Report.

With all that capital, it’s onerous to perceive why more startups haven’t set their sights on bringing innovation and disruption to manure management.

“It’s certainly not sexy. It’s not the latest food trend coming out of Silicon Valley. It’s something hidden in the supply chain, but it is a valuable resource and it’s a pollutant, so there’s an urgent need to bring this on the radar,” Vijn says.

The quantity of manure produced by means of agricultural enterprises in the US is staggering. Though there are present manure management techniques and practices which might be designed to make some use of the waste, there’s undoubtedly untapped potential floating in hog lagoons and poultry litter piles.

In 2017, the meat and poultry industry processed 9.4 billion livestock animals in accordance to the North American Meat Institute. That’s a staggering amount of meat, however it’s additionally a staggering amount of manure contemplating to account for, too.

Manure isn’t a problem distinctive to one specific region over another, either. Almost half of the 2.1 million farms in operation as of the 2012 Census of Agriculture reported having cattle and calves, in accordance to the USDA.

To put it on a extra tangible scale, the manure from a 200-cow dairy produces as much nitrogen as the sewage from a group of 5,000-10,000 individuals according to the National Resource Conservation Service. The annual litter produced from a typical meat-bird home containing 22,000 birds produces as much phosphorous as the sewage from a group of 6,000 individuals.

The waste merchandise that animals produce don’t only include manure, both. Bedding, spilled feed, and other substances which have develop into contaminated with manure are additionally typically swept into the lagoons or other holding areas.

NRCS took the analysis even further to determine how a lot manure every species produces each day. The analysis challenge calculated the typical every day output for every species based mostly on a 1,000-pound animal unit to account for the most important measurement differences between a large-framed dairy cow and a slight laying hen.

The research concluded that a 1,000-pound beef cow produces 59.1 kilos of manure per day. A dairy cow of the identical weight produces 80-pounds. Hogs and pigs produce 63.1-pounds of manure per day per 1,000-lb animal unit while laying hens produce 60.5-pounds and broilers produce 80-pounds. Turkeys produce the least quantity at 43.6-pounds.

“We know there are a lot of programs and practices that farmers are using to manage and apply manure but we also see a need for farmers to better manage the lagoons and storage that they have on their farms,” Vijn stated. “Even with the programs from the government and other sources, there are still accidental manure spills, runoff, and GHG emissions. If manure is managed well, there’s a big opportunity to improve food production efficiency, soil health, clean water, and GHG reductions.”

The Manure Challenge

Via The Manure Challenge, Vijn and the companions hope to determine new solutions that are not on present manure administration corporations’ radar. Additionally they want to increase awareness amongst provide chain companions concerning the risk or decreasing farm degree impacts by means of higher manure administration.

“A lot of companies have set goals to reduce GHG emissions by 30% in by 2030 and they have dairy in their supply chains. They’re all turning to their supply chains saying what solutions can help us get to our goal. This challenge could raise awareness about some of these solutions and bring together parties to invest them and bring them to scale.” Vijn explains. “This can help us look beyond traditional biogas digesters that require a lot of investment and that are really hard to maintain because they require external experts. We are really hoping to find smaller scale solutions that are more user-friendly and that take less investment.”

The street to making manure matter is suffering from some challenges. Getting farmers to undertake new applied sciences is all the time a challenge, particularly when it requires an initial funding and not using a clear sense of when the returns will arrive. The trick to advertising manure tech would be the similar as most different on-farm improvements: leading with the worth proposition.

“I grew up on a farm and my dad was hesitant to invest in stuff like this, but if there is proof of it working, bringing in money, and making life easier in terms of complying with laws or staying ahead of the laws and it isn’t so hard to implement, then farmers will be interested,” Vijn defined. “I also know farmers love to visit with other farmers and to understand what they are doing, so if there is room in this challenge for demonstrations of the technologies it would really help.”