A North Central Florida dairy farm is going green while actually going brown.
The city of Trenton’s Alliance Dairies farm has found a way to recycle cow waste and turn it into electrical power – all while eliminating odor. Its anaerobic manure digester is the only one of its kind in the state, said environmental engineer Del Bottcher, and it recycles manure into methane, which produces about 70 percent of the farm’s electricity year-round.
“The energy that it’s producing is a renewable energy offsetting fossil fuels, so it’s reducing the greenhouse gases going up to the atmosphere,” said Botcher, the president of Soil and Water Engineering Technology Inc. “So that’s a major benefit.”
Bottcher said the program began in 2011 and has estimated it will save $1 million per year in electricity.
The digester is one of four other projects to reduce the farm’s environmental impact.
Alliance Dairies also has a project to help eliminate nitrates from seeping into the groundwater, a waste management system to improve crops’ nutrient utilization, and a new cow bedding made from recycled compost.
Stephanie Bundy, a science teacher at Fort White High School, said she brought her Advanced Placement environmental science students to Alliance Dairies because the farm specifically demonstrates everything she teaches throughout the year.
“Runoff, nitrates, how to use them, how to put it back in the environment, the digester, the methane use – all of those key points tie into sustainability, which is the whole point of the AP environmental curriculum,” Bundy said.
With about 7,000 mature cows on the farm eating more than 50 pounds of food a day, there is plenty of waste being produced to be recycled, said Charlie Smith, Alliance Dairies office manager.
“There’s just so much recycling that goes on here, it is pretty amazing,” Smith said. “It really is a pretty incredible place.”
Cow manure does not have a pleasant smell. The digester is not only helping the environment, but it is also eliminating the odor.
“The liquid manure that goes out onto the fields, the neighbors don’t smell, so it doesn’t smell like a dairy farm any longer,” Bottcher said. “The odor has been the primary complaint of dairy for years and years. When you can eliminate the odor, you basically have become neighbor-friendly.”