Integrated Byproduct Streams for Enhanced Viability of Combined Dairy Farm and Milk Processing Operations

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $295,688.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Donald McMahon
Western Dairy Center, Utah State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, agritourism
  • Soil Management: composting
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Small and mid-sized family farmstead or artisan dairy manufacturing operations have the challenge of how to dispose of whey produced from cheese making as it carries a high biological oxygen demand. This project takes a multi-disciplinary systems approach to solving the waste problem while at the same time ameliorating the nutrient balance issues on dairy farms, lowering the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, and providing an opportunity for additional revenue needed for a sustainable dairy farm/dairy manufacturing business for rural families, as well as building more visible linkages between farms and consumers. The ultimate goal of this project is to demonstrate how all the whey (and any waste product from equipment rinsing) generated in an artisan dairy manufacturing operation can be combined with manure from the dairy farm in an aerobic digester to generate a deodorized biofertilizer and combustible gases, and to provide tools that will enable farmers to make an informed judgment on the costs and economic viability of starting an artisan dairy manufacturing operation in conjunction with their dairy farm. Although encouraged for use on farms, digester systems do not function efficiently when the input is just manure because they lack easily fermentable carbohydrate. The sugar in whey greatly increases digester efficiency, and we aim to determine the optimum combinations of whey and manure, and the best digester system, that will provide an economic return for use by the ag-in-the-middle dairy farmer. To make this study as broadly applicable as possible, we will: 1. study three different scenarios for dairy farm/dairy manufacturing operations, 2. collect data on dairy manufacturing waste (whey) volumes and composition throughout two (2) twelve month periods, 3. use computer modeling to determine optimum digester operating parameters for combining whey and manure, and the respective outputs of deodorized biofertilizer and gases for heating or generating electricity, 4. test and confirm those parameters using a laboratory-scale digester system, 5. determine manure quantities that can be used in the digester and subsequent improvement in nutrient balance (nitrogen and phosphate) of the farm, 6. determine the economics of producing biofertilizer for sale or its application on the farm land, as well as heat and/or electricity generation, and how this relates to the overall economic sustainability of the farming operation, 7. calculate the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions, and the increase in environmental sustainability, by converting solid and liquid waste emissions into saleable products, 8. investigate the positive social benefits that come from reducing odor emissions from the farm and developing real linkages with non-farm individuals who can develop more personal relationships as food consumers with the people and land where there food originates.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Collect data and determine on three dairy farms (Logan, UT; Midway, UT, Colorado City, AZ): (a) their current nitrogen and phosphate balance, including nutrient imports and exports and manure production and usage,  and (b) their current economic balance of costs versus expenditures.

    2. Collect data and determine for three dairy processing operations (two associated with farms [Heber Valley Dairy/Artisan Cheese in Midway and Meadowayne Dairy in Colorado City] and one independent operation [Aggie Creamery in Logan]) over a year of operation: (a) their balance regarding milk and other ingredient inputs versus food products generated for sale, (b) composition and quantity of liquid waste such as whey and equipment rinsings, and (c) an economic evaluation of products made and sold and associated waste disposal costs.

    3. Use the dairy processing data to model anaerobic digestion for each operation and determine the extent of manure that can be blended with the total waste processing stream to optimize (a) production of biomass suitable for sale as deodorized soil condition, (b) production of energy as combustible gases (with or without conversion into electricity), (c) conversion of manure into biomass suitable for land application on the farm. In conjunction with this modeling, construct a lab scale digester that can be operated under the various specified conditions to confirm and refine the computer model.

    4. Determine the economic viability of each situation based upon Objective 3 that includes (a) sale of biomass and carbon credits, (b) impact on energy, (c) savings on waste disposal, (d) costs of transport of whey (when the processing operation is separate from the farm), and (d) nutrient management on the farm.

    5. Determine the improvements in nutrient balance on the farm based upon the various scenarios and the benefits accrued by adding a processing system to milk production on a dairy farm.

    6. Determine the appropriate digester system needed for each scenario to achieve the best return on investment and most efficient long-term operation that would suitable for various size operations.

    7. Determine the benefits related to farm sustainability and solid and liquid processing waste disposal for farm and processing operations that range include small farmers, ag-in-the middle farmers, and large farms

    8. Evaluate social and economic benefits related to (a) maintaining farming operations along with dairy product manufacture in rural and near rural locations, (b) reducing odor nuisance issues, and (c) developing stronger connections between consumers (who purchase products from the processing operation) and the dairy farms where the milk originates.

    9. Include in a previously developed model of profitability of artisan cheesemaking the costs and options of whey disposal and the economics of having an integrated farm/factory waste and nutrient management system.

    10. Provide through face-to-face meetings, online resources, webinairs, how-to-videos, outreach to (a) established dairy farmers who are faced with the situation of staying in or leaving the dairy industry, (b) established dairy processors who must resolve low-value high BOD/COD waste streams, and (c) people looking to enter the artisan farmstead arena.

    Year 1 Performance Targets:

    Nutrient balance for each farm completed.
    Environmental footprint completed for each farm.
    Preliminary collection of three months of data.
    Data collection instrument developed for full data collection.
    Develop economic analysis data collection instrument.
    Develop manure disposal/usage data collection instrument.
    Start 12-month data collection on (1) farm manure generation/disposal/usage, (2) whey/waste water volume and composition, (3) economic analysis.
    Lab-scale anaerobic digester constructed.
    Completion of computer model design for assessing combined manure-whey.


    Year 2 Performance targets:

    Using initial six-month data, manure-whey mixtures determined for optimal generation of (a) biogas or (b) biomass for each operation.
    Twelve-month data collection completed.
    Second nutrient balance for each farm.
    Second environmental footprint for each farm.
    Completion of lab-scale testing of optimum manure-whey mixtures calculated from initial six-month data.
    Presentations of information to Dairy Council of Utah and Nevada, Utah Farm Bureau, Utah Dairymans Association to commence development of education plan.
    Initial economic analysis of use of anaerobic digester for disposal of factory waste stream.
    Determine quantity of manure needed for optimal digester performance for each scenario.
    Presentation of information at ADSA meeting.
    Initial revision of artisan cheese business excel model to include economics of whey disposal.
    First how-to video on anaerobic digestion completed.
    Nutrient balance for each farm based on proposed utilization of manure using digesters with biomass being sold or land applied.
    Theoretical environmental footprint completed for each farm based on utilization of manure using digesters with biomass being sold or land applied.
    Details of outreach and education plan for Year 3 completed.


    Year 3 Performance Targets:

    Presentation of information at USU Artisan Dairy Day.
    Presentation of information at Oregon Dairy Industry Conference.
    Computer modeling for full year of farm-processing-digester operation to determine optimum operating parameters for each scenario.
    Completion of second 12-month data collection.
    Third nutrient balance for each farm.
    Third environmental footprint for each farm.
    Completion of lab-scale testing to confirm optimum manure-whey mixtures calculated from 12-month data.
    Presentations of information at district, regional and national meetings involving dairy farmers.
    Economic analysis of anaerobic digesters for disposal of factory waste stream based on full 12-month operation.
    Evaluation of monthly manure usage for optimal digester performance for each farm-milk processing scenario and associated impacts on farm operation.
    Presentation of information at ADSA annual meeting.
    Artisan cheese business model that includes a module involving economics of whey disposal completed.
    Theoretical nutrient balance for each farm based on proposed utilization of manure in digester with biomass being (a) sold or (b) land applied on the farm.
    Completion of second how-to-video on anaerobic digestion.
    Theoretical environmental footprint completed for each farm based on utilization of manure in digester with biomass being (a) sold or (b) land applied on the farm.

    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.