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


    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, and 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.

    Project objectives:

    1. Collect data and determine on 3 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 3 dairy processing operations (2 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.

    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.

    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.