Manure targeted to create prosperity for dairy industry

University of Idaho secures $10 million USDA grant to create bioproducts from dairy waste streams to build sustainability.

June 24, 2020

2 Min Read
Manure targeted to create prosperity for dairy industry

A team of University of Idaho researchers has secured a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) to evaluate the use of bioproducts from dairy waste streams to enhance sustainability for Idaho agriculture and develop economic opportunities for the state’s dairy industry.

As the third-largest dairy state in the nation, Idaho’s dairy producers face major challenges in managing the manure that is generated by the dairy cattle.

The project will create "useful bioproducts" from dairy manure that can be transported and used in more distant areas for crop production or for value-added products such as plastics, the university said in an announcement.

Mark McGuire, associate dean and director for the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, will lead the interdisciplinary effort that builds on existing research in the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural & Life Sciences and College of Engineering.

The five-year project, titled “Creating a New Bioeconomy for Dairies to Increase Nutrient Recycling, Enhance Productivity of Crops & Stimulate Prosperity in Rural America,” includes a team of agronomists, economists, animal scientists, engineers and soil and water experts.

The goal is to support dairy producers in adopting technologies and processes that transform nutrients extracted from dairy manure into alternatives for commercial fertilizers and other value-added bioproducts to improve soils, sustain agricultural productivity, reduce environmental impacts, provide alternative income streams and create employment opportunities, according to the announcement.

Research will evaluate the effectiveness and economic value of these bioproducts used on different soil types and the various commodities grown in traditional southern Idaho crop rotations while exploring the potential for product commercialization.

“This project also presents a significant economic opportunity for the dairy industry,” McGuire said. “It’s not just selling the milk nutrients, which traditionally comprises 90% of a dairy’s revenue stream, but also selling the crop nutrients that will hopefully support the economic sustainability of the industry.”

According to McGuire, this award emphasizes the importance of the University of Idaho’s effort to establish the nation’s largest research dairy, the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food & the Environment (CAFE), in Idaho’s Magic Valley.

“The grant is directly associated with why CAFE is needed,” McGuire said. “It is an assessment of how the dairy industry contributes to the sustainability of all agriculture.”

Research at CAFE will address constraints on water usage and environmental quality while supporting the dairy, livestock, cropland and food processing sectors of the agriculture industry and exploring solutions for long-term sustainability.

While the CAFE research dairy is slated for completion in 2023, research has already begun, including a recent effort to collect more than 800 soil samples at the dairy site to establish an environmental baseline that will be utilized in this research.

Besides McGuire, other project leaders include Erin Brooks, Mireille Chahine, Erik R. Coats, Aaron J. Johnson, Daniel G. Strawn, Michael S. Strickland and Olga Walsh.

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