Anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic residues is a globally expanding sustainable technology. In the US, commercial AD systems are increasingly used on large dairy and hog farms for generating biogas from manure. These high-tech systems are neither affordable nor technically viable for smaller farms, including diversified grain, horticultural, and mixed farms. In contrast, small AD systems have the potential to help small farmers become energy-resilient and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions as demonstrated by two SARE projects in Washington and Florida. Furthermore, most large-scale AD systems do not make use of biofertilizers which can be obtained from the digestate and applied as organic fertilizers to increase the soil microflora and organic matter content. Biofertilizers can also be sold to diversify a farm’s portfolio. The goal of the present project by researchers, extension agents, and collaborating farmers in Montana is to build on the experience gained in Washington and Florida and to disseminate this sustainable technology in the Western US, as most small farmers in the region are not familiar with AD. We will facilitate professional development and create an open dialog on AD using a participatory farmer-to-farmer approach, enriched by technological information provided by participating farmers, extension agents, and researchers. We will develop three instructional videos where a farmer experienced in using AD explains the technology first-hand on his farm. The videos will cover digester types, the installation and operation of digesters, the right feedstock choices, and the usability of biogas and biofertilizers. In addition, we will generate hands-on online manuals for the use of AD on small farms. We will also conduct a webinar for extension agents and agricultural educators. Finally, we will organize two field demonstrations on biofertilizers, where local producers and extension agents will exchange information about how to use AD systems and biofertilizers.
Project objectives from proposal:
Overall Objective: Generate professional development activities that will increase the energetic resilience of small farms in the Western region and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions by introducing ag educators, agricultural professional, and farmers to the operation of inexpensive and reliable small-scale anaerobic digesters as well as to possible uses of their core products, biogas and biofertilizers.
Specific Objective 1 (O1): Inform ag educators, agricultural professionals, and farmers in the Western region on the installation, functionality, and operation of small-scale anaerobic digesters for processing agricultural residues as well as on the usability of products generated by anaerobic digestion.
Specific Objective 2 (O2): Highlight the potential of producing biofertilizers using small-scale anaerobic digesters to diversify the product portfolio of small farms in the Western region and to increase their soil health by applying these biofertilizers to their crops.