A Farmer Holding Fertilizer

Poop power: Manure is not a waste anymore

Today's farmers (and our co-op) are working together to transform the ancient practice of upcycling manure

Everyone poops, that’s just a fact, especially farm animals. Whether it’s ‘human waste’ or ‘animal waste’ that word, “waste” is something that farmers in our cooperative network and our animal nutrition researchers are trying to do away with. It’s first, a mentality, then its putting that thought into action and on-farm practices to create positive changes for the environment in innovative and unexpected ways. So we promise, this is not another crappy story or just a pun-filled piece about poop.

Using manure as fertilizer (smart and getting smarter)

Today’s farmers and our co-op are working together to transform the ancient practice of upcycling manure — in a way that’s helping reduce and mitigate runoff into waterways or unwanted areas. In fact, some of our member farms in the East have been incorporating practices that enhance soil’s natural process of converting nutrient pollution into harmless gas. And they’ve been recognized for their important work protecting waterways.
Across our co-op network, we are improving the age-old practice of using manure as fertilizer through Conservation Dairy assessments. These help provide an accurate, insights-based picture of a member dairy farm’s sustainability efforts. In an hour or less, an assessment can collect more than 250 data points related to on-farm sustainability, including water usage, soil health and manure management. The assessment helps farmers inspect how effectively they capture greenhouse gases in their manure management systems and even recommends ways to turn that manure into a source of revenue, selling it as fertilizer or a biogas.

A View Of A Farm

Barn to biogas, AKA poop to pipeline

Farmers are using manure in ways that promote sustainability off the farm, too. How does it work? A piece of machinery called an anaerobic methane digester separates digested solids from liquid portion of manure for use as fertilizer  and captures the methane in the manure and converts it into energy that can power equipment and housing on the farm while the rest gets sold back to the electrical grid. (Learn more about how one of our member farms processes 450,000 gallons of manure monthly to power more than 100 area homes, here.)
We expect that soon, the barn-to-biogas model won’t just be a nice-to-have; farmers will be required by-law to decrease emissions. In California, for example, state decision-makers called for farmers to reduce dairy and livestock manure-related methane emissions by 40 percent from 2013 to 2030. Our Californian members, government relations team, member relations team, and our conservation and stewardship arm Truterra responded, working side-by-side to develop a barn-to-biogas approach.
In partnership with CalBio, we’re helping members in the state install digesters to manage their on-farm emissions and actually produce renewable vehicle fuel that gets piped into energy resources like mass transportation. We’re hopeful for what similar work can look like in other parts of the country, as barn-to-biogas becomes the way of the future.

Poop power’s next frontier: Swine

Just like cow manure, pig poop is a nutrient-rich resource and organic fertilizer. But for many pig producers, processing manure so they can access nutrients is inefficient. Manure in storage separates, causing valuable nutrients for crops — nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous — to sink to the bottom of deep manure pits. It’s also, well, stinky.
The team at Purina Animal Nutrition thought there must be a better way for pigs, producers and the environment. They developed EcoCare feeds to help make the most of manure and manage nutrient excess and emissions. EcoCare feed contains microbials, enzymes and botanical extracts that support pigs’ ability to digest feed and improve manure management at the same time. Research on the feed has demonstrated that pigs fed EcoCare produced 28.4% less nitrogen — which resulted in an ideal amount of nutrients in the manure to use as crop fertilizer. Research also showed a 40% reduction in ammonia emissions. What’s the big deal? Ammonia can be a harmful colorless gas to both pigs and humans is not managed properly. Plus, since EcoCare makes manure more manageable by being less sticky and more fluid, it can cut down on time and water usage during clean up.
​When it comes to EcoCare, farmers, even their neighbors might smell the difference right away. We’re convinced manure is something to get excited about, now. Innovative manure management techniques and products can help farmers fulfill their hefty dual responsibility of caring for the land and protecting the sustainability of their operations for the future.
We’ll continue to focus on discovering more ways to drive measurable outcomes for air, soil and water, and for farmers’ operations — no BS.