Winter weather impacts make manure storage monitoring critical

Liquid manure storage pit at a dairy operation.

When liquid manure sits in storage lagoons on dairies or other livestock operations for too long, methane can form and contribute to climate change. To address concerns about methane emissions, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) developed the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP), which supports farmers in reducing their methane emissions with both financial and technical assistance.

The objective of CDFA’s AMMP is to encourage dairy and livestock producers to adopt climate-smart practices to reduce methane emissions in animal agriculture systems. The program incentivizes the development of manure management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as protect water and air quality.

These practices fall under four main categories: pasture-based management, solid separation, conversion from flush to scrape and alternative manure treatments and storage. For example, running manure through a solids separator helps to reduce potential surface and groundwater pollution, as there is less nitrogen and other elements in the separated liquids. In the most recent round of grants from the program, livestock and dairy operations could apply for up to $750,000 to implement these kinds of methane reduction practices.

In addition, producers can receive technical assistance from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) climate-smart agriculture educators. This team was established with the support of UCANR, the Strategic Growth Council and CDFA and has educators based in 10 counties around the state. The effort is led by Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources, in collaboration with several UCANR county-based advisors.

The climate-smart agriculture educator team has been working on a case study project highlighting the work of two dairies that received a CDFA AMMP grant for solid separation practices.

Zuppan’s Dairy, a family-owned farm, milks around 600 cows in Glenn County, CA. With the help of the CDFA AMMP grant, they were able to purchase and install a manure solids separator, handling equipment, a pump for the pond, a concrete slab and an agitator. The project was completed within a year and has now been operating for almost two years. By implementing these climate-smart manure management practices, Zuppan’s greenhouse gas reduction is equivalent to removing 176 cars from the road per year. 

Not only are there environmental benefits, but Zuppan’s Dairy is also seeing a yearly average savings of $29,000-37,000 due to fertilizer savings, reductions in manure hauling with the excavator and diesel fuel reductions.

Renati Dairy is a third- and fourth-generation run farm that was established in 1958 and milks 750 cows in Sonoma County, CA. They installed a pump, agitator, mechanical scraper and concrete trough to connect manure to an existing manure solids separator. Renati Dairy’s greenhouse gas reduction for this project is equivalent to removing 111 cars from the road each year. In addition, a dairy of this scale can expect to see yearly savings of approximately $93,000.

Along with annual cost savings for each of the dairies, both are seeing additional related benefits, including lower levels of solids in manure ponds and a reduction in labor costs. Reduced solids in the collection ponds means the farmer does not have to worry about a crust forming that could create methane gas and can also more evenly distribute the water onto their various fields for irrigation.

Taken as a whole, the CDFA AMMP has led to a reduction of 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents over five years, the equivalent of 243,310 cars being taken off the road. — UCANR

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