Waste to Worth 2022: Is waste, just waste when it has a value?

Waste to Worth 2022: Is waste, just waste when it has a value?

This year I had the opportunity to attend Waste to Worth 2022, a conference by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC). The LPELC, which gathers the nation’s best minds with different backgrounds, and those that make or influence environmental management decisions on livestock and poultry farms to promote science and extension leading to sustainable production. The beginning of the experience was to make a field trip to different local agriculture settings and industries, near Maumee-Ohio, that aligned with the conference purpose- Innovative outreach on how turning waste into worth.

We had three tour options, and I chose the tour on alternative technologies and treatments. During this tour, we went to Bridgewater Dairy, which was founded in 1998 in Northwest Ohio, and has over 3,000 head of dairy cows milked in a double parallel parlor and more than 5,000 acres of cropland. The corn consumed by the cows is grown on their farm, and one of their highest priorities is working with the gift of manure management, used as nutrients for crops.

photo of sand after separation
Figure 1. Sand separated in drying process in Bridgewater Dairy.

According to the Bridgewater Dairy management team, 80% of their job is dealing and working with manure rather than milk production. For that reason, they try to have the most needed tools to turn that “waste into worth”. To be sustainable and have the best management possible, they have facilities to separate manure and bedding recovery that in this case is sand, which is re-used in the barns. In addition, they collaborate with local recycling companies dedicated to hauling manure to apply it to their crops. Personally, I thought it was interesting that there are companies storing manure from the dairy in a satellite pit, giving more options to apply the provided nutrients to other areas if the manure cannot be applied on the farm’s own fields. At the same time, they are working to make build an anaerobic methane digester that would help them to produce electricity from the manure and could constitute another profit source for the farm.

photo of monitoring and water sample collection station
Figure 2. Monitoring and water sample collection station for phosphorus levels.

Some farmers in northwest Ohio’s Maumee River watershed are looking for ways to improve their phosphorus management, due to the elevated phosphorus levels in their fields that are contributing to the Lake Erie’s nutrient charge and the algal blooms. Due to this problem, one of the must stops, and a very interesting one, during our tour was to a research farm where The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences researchers are monitoring phosphorus levels in run-off and including better management practices. One of the main practices highlighted were phosphorus filters, which are used to treat ground water before it leaves the field and joins surface water sources.

Very different experiences, scenarios and lessons were learned during the tour. We could take away how valuable manure is, and how problematic a non-efficient nutrient management scenario can be in a wider scale for our ecosystems. Finally, we learned how everyone needs to do their best to obtain as much value and the least harmful effects as possible from the waste resulting from their activities.

This article was reviewed by Leslie Johnson

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