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New ERS Report Discusses Climate Change Policy and the Ways Livestock Producers and Dairy Operators can Benefit from Anaerobic Digesters

Posted by Robert Bonnie, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Environment and Climate in Energy
Feb 08, 2011

As American Agriculture moves into a new century, producers are working to reduce greenhouse gases and nutrient runoff from their operations.  It is even better if, while doing so, they also develop a new revenue stream.  Anaerobic digesters deliver on that objective and also contribute to Obama Administration’s commitment to promote renewable energy and green technology. Deploying anaerobic digesters is not only good for the environment, and for the Nation’s energy outlook, it signifies renewed efforts to invest in America, part of the President’s strategy to “Win the future.”

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has just released a comprehensive report outlining ways that agricultural producers, especially dairy and hog producers, can benefit from the installation of anaerobic digesters.   Anaerobic digester technology is a proven method of converting waste products, such as manure, into electricity. The technology uses generators that are fueled by methane captured from farm animal manure. Dairy operations with anaerobic digesters routinely generate enough electricity to power 200 homes.

The Obama Administration is working to increase the availability of anaerobic digesters on U.S. dairy farms with a long-term goal of making an additional digester operational each week. USDA’s commitment to work with dairy producers on sustainability and energy issues is codified in an important agreement Secretary Vilsack signed with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in Copenhagen in December 2009. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) calls for reding greenhouse emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and demonstrates the leadership being shown by dairy producers.

The report, Climate Change Policy and the Adoption of Methane Digesters on Livestock Operations, estimates the number and type of dairy and hog operations that would find it profitable to adopt a digester.  It notes that policies, such as carbon offsets, that allow farmers to market  greenhouse gas emissions could create new opportunities for livestock producers to earn revenue from burning methane produced from manure.  This would, in turn, make such biogas recovery systems more profitable for many livestock producers. The report estimates the number and type of operations that would find a digester to be profitable over a wide range of carbon prices and estimates the relationship between carbon price and emission reduction.

To read the report, click here.  To read a summary, click here.

Category/Topic: Energy