UNH Organic Dairy Farm Agroecosystem Study, Phase II; A closed system, energy independent organic dairy farm for Northeastern U.S.

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $392,658.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dr. John Aber
University of New Hampshire

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: grazing management
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    With the first three years of funding from USDA-SARE, and with significant support from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, we have documented the initial energy and nitrogen budgets of the operations at the UNH Organic Dairy Farm at the Burley-Demeritt Agroecosystem Research Site, and have begun to establish the water balance as well. We have examined water quality impacts of previous management, and established a monitoring program to record changes in water quality that will accompany changes in management that are already underway. We have also investigated alternative energy systems and begun to look at the trace gas and energy consequences of an aerobic composting-for-energy strategy. Over the next three years, in Phase II of this project, we will use this baseline information to establish a water footprint for the current dairy operations on the Farm and complete our analysis of potential energy strategies, including development and testing of at least two alternatives (geothermal and an integrated wood-bedding-compost system). To enhance ongoing outreach impacts resulting from the project, we will establish an Alternative Energy Demonstration Center at the farm. We will also continue to monitor energy usage and nitrogen balances accompanying operations and transactions, and will begin to examine gaseous exchanges of nitrogen. Completing Phase II will position us for anticipated outcomes in Phase III, which will emphasize development of best practices and extensive outreach and engagement activities based on results from the study.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Major Outcomes from Phase II of this project will include:
    • Increased precision in our understanding of the energy, carbon, nitrogen and water balances of an operating organic dairy farm system
    • Analysis of management alternatives to approach a closed nitrogen system and energy independence
    • Measurement of changes in water use, water quality, and nitrogen balances as a result of changes in infrastructure (new barn and feeding pad) and management (grazing patterns, feeding patterns)
    • Measurement of changes in energy and carbon balances under at least two alternative energy applications (geothermal and wood-bedding composting)
    • An alternative energy demonstration center

    In greater detail, the Objectives/Deliverables of this proposal include:
    1. Hydrology and Water Quality
    a. Continued groundwater hydrology
    • Year 4: Continue monitoring of main watershed. Extend hydrologic monitoring to adjacent watershed (establish stream gauging station, install additional wells). Initiate routine monitoring of soil moisture.
    • Year 5: Continue monitoring of both watersheds. Begin utilizing multi-year observations and natural inter-annual variability to better understand relationships between farm management practices and hydrologic fluxes.
    • Year 6: Summarize how different management practices affect hydrologic fluxes. Use improved understanding to develop appropriate strategies for dealing with drought
    b. Continued water quality monitoring
    • Document the effectiveness of changing farm management practices (including the new barn and feeding station now in place and proposed changes in manure processing described below) on nutrient losses from the site
    • Quantify the role of the wetland in reducing off-site nutrient losses.
    • Simulate solute transport and first-order decay reactions using the MT3D model to estimate the relative importance of denitrification processes and simple dilution.
    c. Calculating the water footprint of the Farm
    • Meter the (blue) water used in stock tanks and washdowns.
    • Compute the (green) water taken up by evapotranspiration in the growing of forage and the production of pelletized feed and bedding.
    • Quantify the amount of (gray) water that leaves the site impaired.
    2. Closing the Nitrogen Cycle
    a. Measurement of gaseous N exchanges
    • Quantify the inputs of N to the pastures through nitrogen fixation
    • Quantify N losses by measuring field fluxes of N2O and estimating losses of N2
    b. Updating data on the nitrogen cycle
    • Continue to measure and monitor nitrogen inputs and output in products purchased and sold, and N dynamics associated with water balances.
    c. Minimizing nitrogen input
    • Work with Farm manager on reducing grain imports when organic milk sales are reduced.
    • Reduce bedding imports are outlined in 3.c below.
    3. Moving Toward Energy Independence
    a. Finalizing the current energy budget and energy system analysis
    • Continue to monitor energy use across the farm
    b. Geothermal application for milk cooling
    • Design alternative ground water geothermal systems for cooling milk before storage. The alternatives include: 1) Direct use in a plate heat exchanger, and 2) Use as the heat sink in a heat pump producing cold water which can then be used in the plate heat exchanger, and 3) A groundwater-heat pump system to chill the storage tank.
    c. Integrated wood shavings/bedding/energy/compost system
    • Develop, test and asses a multi-step process that uses the abundant wood resource on the farm to meet energy, bedding and soil amendment requirements
    d. An alternative energy demonstration center
    • Establish, as part of the outreach activities associated with the project, an alternative energy demonstration site that will provide continuous estimations of energy available from sun, wind, composting, geothermal and other sources.

    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.