Composting as an alternative for mortalities and meat residuals from farms and butcher operations

Final Report for ENE03-075

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $119,179.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Ellen Harrison
Cornell Waste Management Institute
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Dairy/livestock farmers and custom butchers are finding it increasingly difficult to locate off-farm disposal for dead animals and meat residuals. In many cases these previously rendered materials are being disposed of in an unsound manner on the farm, causing potential farm bio-security, environmental and neighbor problems.

Passively aerated static pile composting with strategic turning is proving to be a good method of managing these wastes. It is simple, takes less time than dragging a carcass out back, employs equipment used in daily operations on farms and is cost effective. This method helps protect ground and surface water by reducing pathogens when properly managed. Related research on pathogen reduction is in progress.

Through this project, five composting demonstration sites were set up in each of the three participating states. Cooperative Extension educators, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other agriculture educators were trained to assist in this management practice including site selection, dissemination of information and implementation. Farms and butcher shops were recruited to set up demonstrations where people learned about and observed the process. Health and environmental regulators participated in training events in each state to educate and try to alleviate some of the concerns that currently exist in the vacuum of technical information.

Each state worked with appropriate agencies in field demonstrations, as part of in-service training, and through electronic media and newsletters. Where possible, agency personnel joined workshops and tours held for the agricultural sector, which helped to promote shared understanding. These NESARE funds allowed us to work with them to help shape related policy/documents and help get information out.

Performance Target:

• Of the 300 educators trained, 60 will work with farms and butchers to compost carcass and butcher waste, improving the economic and environmental situation for these operations.

420 agriculture educators and 215 veterinarians, participated in training programs in NY, PA and VT and 200 are in a position to assist and are working with farmers and butchers. Since mortality and butcher waste have been increasingly difficult to dispose of, there is a lot of interest in implementing the process immediately and there are many planning for their eventual need ie disease out break or loss of services. By training these educators and advisors, the continued need will be met.

• Of the 1000 farms/butchers reached through initial and subsequent trainings, 20% will implement or improve composting practices.

925 farmers and 50 butchers have adopted this practice or made improvements to existing operations. This process has been promoted for the last 7 years, many people had started composting but may not have had the benefit of educational events or just developed the need for the process. With this concerted education, we were able to reach more people and improve existing practices.

• 100 educators and regulators in each of three states will avoid confusion and support composting of residuals and carcasses as the transition is made from traditional rendering or from common existing undesirable activities such as dumping and coyote baiting.

385 regulators/law enforcement personnel were involved in this project through participation, coordinating efforts, writing rules, guidance and regulation. This was a tough audience because there are many departments within agencies that might have involvement with mortality composting. The early lack of communication within agencies caused the failure of some operations. With this program we were able to get more education to law enforcement, water and waste divisions in the agencies. We also connected the 3 state agencies so they could develop guidance in an area that they never had to address. We now have ag educators that can help out their state agencies and or direct them to helpful sources.

Introduction:

Livestock farmers, butchers and highway agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain economical and environmentally sound disposal for mortality and meat residuals. With the decline of the rendering industry, increase in prion concerns, the ban on use of downer cows, and increased proximity of residences to farms, there is need for new management methods. Improper disposal poses risks to surface and ground water and to the health of livestock, wildlife and pets. Due to high prices and poor access to rendering services, many animals end up in shallow pits or dragged “out back.” Composting has recently emerged as a viable option. Composting serves to reduce volume by 50%, reduces pathogens, is relatively easy and cost effective; about 25 dollars per cow. In addition to livestock farms, Departments of Transportation (DOT) have become interested in this application to better manage road kill they collect.

Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI), Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and Waste Not Resource Solutions (in VT) worked with stakeholders including farmers, butchers, vets, educators, regulators and policy makers in implementation and research. These partners were involved with logistics, training, educational material development and disseminating information. Farms were involved in demonstrations, and extension educators, NRCS, and other agriculture educators helped plan and coordinate workshops and demonstrations.

Prior to SARE funding, CWMI developed a 20-minute video, “Natural Rendering: Composting Livestock Mortality & Butcher Waste,” a 12-page fact sheet (available at: http://compost.css.cornell.edu/naturalrenderingFS.pdf), a set of posters and a PowerPoint presentation that are available (some are on the CWMI WWW site: cwmi.css.cornell.edu). These educational materials were used and distributed at workshops and demonstrations. Participating states developed materials specific to their state audiences including posters, instructional material and newsletters. Displays and demonstrations at farm events like Dairy Days, fairs and conferences raised the awareness of thousands of attendees. Newsletters, newspapers, and magazine articles reached producers throughout the Northeast Region.

These efforts have led to significant progress. Environmental agencies in each state (Dept. of Environmental Conservation in NY and VT and Dept. of Environmental Protection in PA) are working to develop rules, regulations and guidance to address an issue with which they had little past experience. NRCS has adopted guidance that reflects the research and experience gained through this project. NYSDOT has begun composting road-kill and other states are considering it.

As a result of this program, effective composting is being implemented on livestock farms, at butcher shops and at DOT sites in PA, NY and VT. More than 10,000 people have been reached through workshops and demonstrations. About 50 custom butcher operations are now composting. Many more butchers have attended workshops and either do not have room or are considering it for the future.

There is a need for further extension work. More farmers, butchers and DOTs need to know how to compost effectively. As a result of this project, new efforts have been funded in each state to continue to address this issue.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jean Bonhotal
  • Brian Jerose
  • J. Craig Williams

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

In a multi-state effort, NY, VT and PA implemented mortality and flesh waste demonstration composting practices on farms and at butcher operations. Through 15 demonstrations, 4 tours, written and visual resources, meetings and hands-on experience, agriculture educators, regulators, veterinarians, farmers and butchers, were reached with this critical information. Five composting demonstration sites were set up in each of the three participating states. Farms and butcher shops were recruited to set up demonstrations where people learned about and observed the process. The locations were chosen so that there was good geographic distribution in each state and preferences were given to locations that demonstrated both butcher waste and carcass composting methods on their site. It was not hard to locate sites as there are not a lot of disposal options, so people are eager to have an option with the natural rendering method. In some locations it is hard to get good chunky carbonaceous material. Different sites used different carbon materials with the outcome of showing people how well different amendments worked.

Health and environmental regulator training occurred in each state to educate and try to alleviate some of the concerns that existed in the vacuum of technical information. Each state worked with their agencies both with field demonstrations, as part of in-service training, as well as through electronic media and newsletters. Where possible, these agency personnel joined workshops and tours held for the agricultural sector, which helped to promote shared understanding. Assistance and advice was provided to state regulatory agencies and to NRCS to help shape policies and practices. State budgets were tight so we were not able to physically get agencies from 3 states together. We also explored video conferencing and concluded that phone conferencing personal calls and sharing works in progress electronically were able to help meet regulators needs. The symposium in Maine also allowed regulators from different states to meet and share information.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

This project proceeded smoothly. In addition to the implementation of composting for livestock mortalities and flesh wastes on 925 farms and at 50 butchers, 30 agricultural educators feel comfortable teaching or assisting with this topic with the help of demonstration sites and educational materials available.

Other significant accomplishments include:

The state environmental regulatory agencies (VTDEC, NYSDEC and PADEP) have overcome concerns and now promote composting of mortality. Each state is working on regulation and guidance to address mortality composting.

NRCS revised their national mortality management standard. NY NRCS has developed a more detailed mortality composting standard to better suit NY needs.

NYSDOT is initiating composting to manage road-kill.

Continued research at Cornell (funded by NYSDOT) and Penn State (funded by PA Dept of Agriculture) about pathogen reduction is providing confidence in the process.

The VT Association of Conservation Districts has been funded to provide additional outreach and education to the agricultural community on carcass composting.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

15 Demonstration sites were established (5/state) and at least one educational event has been held at each site in cooperation with Departments of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, NRCS, Natural Resource Conservation Depts. and others.

Tours held in the three state areas have reached 180 people, including farmers, educators, legislators and regulators.

Demonstration site education has reached 1368 people through workshops and demonstrations. This included 420 agriculture educators, 348 farmers and custom butchers, 215 veterinarians, and 385 regulators/law enforcement personnel.

Farm Shows/events, Vet conferences, newsletters, list servers and www sites have provided a means for reaching many people. Through events including NYS Empire Farm Days, National Agriculture Agents Association, Soil and Water Conservation National Conference, NOFA-VT, Vermont Farm Show and others. Information is posted on http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu and http://composting.cas.psu.edu will be linked and or added to other sites as appropriate.

Articles have been written and published in NE Dairy Business (2005), BioCycle (2004 and 2005), Small Farms Quarterly (2003), Cornell Alumni Magazine (2003), Rutland Herald/Barre Times-Argus (2004) and local newsletters. Over 15 articles were either authored by SARE project team members or resulted from media coverage of demonstration sites.

Regulator education reached appropriate regulatory staff to make them aware of this process through meetings, tours, video, fact sheets and posters.

Many of the agencies in different states are trying to set rules and policies on how they should proceed with mortality and butcher waste composting. VT, NY and PA are currently revising regulations in each of their states. As decisions and progress are made in one state the working group members are sharing documents with other state agencies. Brian Jerose (Waste Not Resource Solutions) spoke at the State Senate Agricultural Committee Meeting in Montpelier where he presented information to six state senators with Secretary of Agriculture Dept., Deputy Secretary of Ag. and approximately 10 additional state staff, Farm Bureau staff and other individuals. As stated above 385 people in regulatory agencies were reached with information either for general education, regulation updating or to understand the process when enforcing the law. NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) chose to make copies of the Natural Rendering video for each of the nine regions in the state, it was shown at staff meetings and fact sheets were distributed. Each state is responsible to have a plan in place for managing mass casualties but it may be developed by different agencies in each state. VT and NY have plans in place and PA had a working meeting with agency people (NRCS, PA Dept of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension and PADEP) in summer 2003. PA Dept. of Agriculture is developing plans for composting in the event of an emergency animal depopulation.

NYSDEC has approved the composting method for disposal of mortalities and encouraged training for those who will be composting livestock mortality, butcher waste and road-kill. NYSDOT has recently written a guidance document for composting road-kill. PA has worked with a municipality to start a deer road-kill compost site that will act as a pilot and demonstration site for others. NY has five DOT demonstration sites to date. VT has worked with the appropriate agencies to produce their own 11” x 17” brochure on mortality composting that can also be used in other states. The VT team worked closely with NRCS and VTDEC.

At the national level, NRCS has written standards for mortality composting, which includes composting larger animals such as cows and horses. Each state’s NRCS has the ability to tailor the standard to better address their needs. In NY, CWMI, Pro Dairy and others were asked to help update the mortality and related compost standard. A NY standard is now in effect. Other states can now adopt the standard if it fits their circumstances.

A national symposium, Composting Mortality & Slaughterhouse Residuals held in Portland, ME, was convened so that agency professionals could discuss and debate implementation, regulation and policy pertaining to mortality composting, prion diseases and mass casualty response. VT, NY and PA played a significant role in planning, presenting and discussion. 110 people from EPA, DOT, Environmental Agencies, Agriculture and Markets Departments, farmers, butchers, and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration participated in May 2005.

As an unintended spin off of this project, there is great interest from DOTs to better manage the road-kill they are charged with collecting. Cornell has a contract to establish research and demonstration piles and to study pathogen reduction and provide outreach and training. VT has received funding to continue the work they have started with livestock and butcher waste composting. PSU has also been funded to explore pathogen issues.

As a result of this project, workshops are being done in NJ, NH, ME and presentations were made at eight national conferences: ECO’s (an association of environmental regulators), US Compost Council, BioCycle, National Recycling Coalition, National Ag Agents Association 2003, an on line course was given through Solid Waste Association of North America, National Ag Agents Association 2005, and National/Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Video, Fact Sheets and Posters were made available. 6000 fact sheets and 100 sets of posters have been distributed in the three states and additional poster sets are being printed. 300 videos have been purchased. As educators purchase them they become part of their lending library resulting in more use that we can not track. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES) will continue to distribute “Natural Rendering: Mortality and Butcher Waste Composting” video and the fact sheet is available from http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu.

Evaluation included records of participation in events and a survey of participants of each state to get an indication of how many businesses adopted or improved practices.

States are keeping track of attendees as practical. Each state coordinator has completed a face-to-face or telephone survey of the educators that have been active in teaching and information dissemination to assess how many farms/butchers have adopted this practice or made changes in their process. 925 farmers and 50 butchers have adopted this practice or made improvements to existing operations. 30 ag educators feel comfortable teaching or assisting with this topic with the help of demonstration sites and educational materials available.

Coordination among the project team was ensured by phone conferencing and meetings.

Communication through telephone conferencing and e-mail has worked well. Throughout the project we met at events to keep in touch and share information. We also explored video conferencing as a means to communicate and bring different states agencies together to discuss issues and regulations affecting them.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This project proceeded smoothly. In addition to the implementation of composting for livestock mortalities and flesh wastes on 925 farms and at 50 butchers, 30 agricultural educators feel comfortable teaching or assisting with this topic with the help of demonstration sites and educational materials available.

Other significant accomplishments include:

The state environmental regulatory agencies (VTDEC, NYSDEC and PADEP) have overcome concerns and now promote composting of mortality. Each state is working on regulation and guidance to address mortality composting.

NRCS revised their national mortality management standard. NY NRCS has developed a more detailed mortality composting standard to better suit NY needs.

NYSDOT is initiating composting to manage road-kill.

Continued research at Cornell (funded by NYSDOT) and Penn State (funded by PA Dept of Agriculture) about pathogen reduction is providing confidence in the process.

The VT Association of Conservation Districts has been funded to provide additional outreach and education to the agricultural community on carcass composting.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The long-term potential includes proper disposal option, cost savings and environmental protection. There is an alternative to improper disposal when rendering is not available or affordable. Animals will be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The cost of disposal is considerably less, as it costs about $25 to compost an animal and can cost up to $200 to have it picked up or rendered.

Future Recommendations

There is still a need to continue outreach and education as you hear of a number of examples where carcasses are still left out for the coyote or where composting problems have occurred. Many have implemented composting but with rapid adoption over 5 + years, there is room for improvement. Help is needed to identify acceptable composting amendments/bulking agents. The use of on-farm materials is desirable but the process is more effective with a porous amendment. Wood chips are ideal but they need to be imported and have associated costs. There is also need for more research on pathogen reduction and a need to evaluate the quality of leachate that comes from piles and how it can be managed effectively.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.