A plan spearheaded by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., could help dairy farmers here purchase biodigester facilities to convert cattle manure into fertilizer and biogas energy.
Mr. Schumer is seeking to reinstate an expired energy grant program that essentially would give farmers upfront cash to pay for up to 30 percent of biodigester facilities. He described the new technology as another way to help dairy farmers produce more milk to serve the booming Greek yogurt industry here.
The plan should complement an upcoming legislative change announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the state yogurt summit Aug. 15 that will enable farmers with fewer than 200 cows to increase their herd sizes up to 300 without paying costly fines set by the state Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations program. Research from Cornell University, Ithaca, in 2010 shows that 4,455 dairy farms with fewer than 200 cattle will be able to expand without the restrictions. Farms with fewer than 200 cows in the north country include 198 in Jefferson County, 244 in Lewis County and 233 in St. Lawrence County.
With more cows, theres going to be more manure, and with more yogurt production there are more waste products, Mr. Schumer said. As dairy production grows, this will reduce waste costs and increase the efficiency of dairy farms with fertilizer and electricity. Its an absolute game-changer.
While biodigesters can cost up to $7 million, Mr. Schumer said, farmers can form joint efforts to make purchasing the equipment feasible. Called the federal 1603 grant program, the energy grant funding can provide valuable startup costs to get projects off the ground. Synergy Biogas in Wyoming County, for instance, used the program to garner a $2.4 million grant for its facility, which converts manure and waste products from local food processors into energy and generates nutrient-rich fertilizer for the dairy farm. That facility, which sells electricity on the energy grid, creates enough electricity for 1,600 homes.
In the north country, Kraft Foodss cream cheese plant in Lowville has expressed interest in applying for a federal grant for a biodigester if the program is revived. Kraft, which would purchase the biodigester facility from CH4 Biogas, a Florida-based company that also is pursuing projects in Oneida and Livingston counties, tentatively plans to convert both its food waste and manure from up to 20 neighboring dairy farms into renewable electricity and gas to heat the plant.
Mr. Schumer will push to approve funding for the grant program next week, or in the lame duck session this winter.
This energy incentive is a key piece in the puzzle to the Greek yogurt industry and Im not ready to stop until we get it back, he said. It will allow biodigesters to sprout across upstate New York. When the capacity to grow herds grows, well be able to supply more milk to New York factories.
Mr. Schumer is also making a push to enable state school districts to offer Greek yogurt for students. Its yet another step to help yogurt plants that say theyre having difficulty finding enough milk here.
Our dairy farms are poised to play a great role because theres demand for more milk and to grow more profit, he said. But if plants cant get milk here, theyll go somewhere else.