After the smelly coverage KOMO TV's investigative reporter Jeff Burnside did on dairy farms in November, 2014, it's a pleasant surprise to see KOMO showing a positive side of today's dairy farms.
This report from April 19 highlights the biogas digester at the Werkhoven dairy near Monroe, WA. Of particular note is the partnership on this energy source with the Tulalip Tribe. This kind of partnership between farmers and Tribes, such as is seen in the Portage Bay Partnership in Whatcom County, provide some confidence for the future.
There are about eight of these biogas digesters operating in Western Washington. While they provide power, one of the best things about them is seldom told in stories like this. The process of digesting the manure removes about 99.9% of the bacteria from the manure. It's this bacteria, fecal coliform, that can get into water that can contaminate streams and rivers, even affecting shellfish beds. While the bacteria is removed, the nutrients needed to feed the dairy crops are not lost so the nutrients, now free of bacteria, can be applied to the fields with less risk of contamination.
When these were first introduced, the power sales were intended to be a major part of getting a return on the very significant investment. With rapid increase in natural gas, power costs have come down upsetting the economics. But, its one area where farmers working with our government leaders can address the concerns arising from cow manure and water quality.
UPDATE: Manure management remains one of the most important topics for farmers. New technologies and methods for helping ensure the manure is used effectively as organic fertilizer and not used in a way that may contaminate water are continually evolving. Here's a brief report from WSU on how one farmer in Royal City, WA is using critters to address this important issue:
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