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The smell of success

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Cow chips aren’t just a good fertilizer.

They can provide an alternate source of energy for farmers. And now a state program will help those in the dairy industry mine the manure for this double benefit.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that $20 million is available this year through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to create anaerobic digesters. This technology removes methane from cow manure to create biogas, which fuels turbines to produce electricity. What is left is a nutrient-rich effluent, which may be applied to crops as fertilizer and used for cattle bedding.

Applicants for the program are eligible for $2 million per project. The grants are available to businesses that deal with cow manure such as farms, food processors and wastewater sites.

“We have long thought that if the state wanted to invest in alternative-energy sources, especially biofuels, then anaerobic digesters are a good direction to go in,” Jay M. Matteson, agricultural coordinator for Jefferson County, said in a Monday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “Farmers win because they can generate their own power, and it’s a win for the community because it helps the farm manage their waste stream even better” to reduce contamination and odor.

The idea to help fund anaerobic digesters came from the yogurt summit held last year by Gov. Cuomo. Dairy farmers in Northern New York produce most of the milk for Greek yogurt, and the summit was held to discuss ways the state could assist farmers in enhancing their operations and boost this segment of the economy.

Douglas W. Shelmidine and Jon R. Greenwood are the only two dairy farmers from the north country so far to construct anaerobic digesters. Mr. Shelmidine runs a 750-cow farm in Ellisburg, and Mr. Greenwood operates a 1,300-cow farm in Canton.

“The investment to purchase a digester usually ranges from $3 million to $5 million, Mr. Matteson said, but they’ve become increasingly affordable for farmers because of better state subsidies,” according to Monday’s story.

Government funding for alternative energy is wise as long as the projects support society at large. Grants for items like residential solar panels and windmills may help the individual homeowner, but the broader benefits are difficult to identify.

In contrast, anaerobic digesters benefit dairy farmers by creating energy and fertilizer, both of which they can use. This sanitizes the waste stream from cows and boosts the dairy industry, which also is a plus for the yogurt business. This is grant money well spent, and local dairy farmers should consider if such equipment would help them.

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