Ag: Liquefied manure

It’s good to see people come together to discuss manure handling problems and to look for creative solutions. The growth in the number of large farms in the area is obviously a concern of residents. From runoff into streams to odor to concern about well water, there’s been plenty of discussion about the change in the rural landscape.

We’re not sure how satisfying the meeting Monday night in the Seneca Township Hall was for any of the parties involved. Some rural residents didn’t receive answers to the questions they asked.

A township official expressed his feeling of helplessness in regard to having any control over agricultural developments. The owner of a large farm spoke of the financial benefit of the large operations and was disappointed with the public’s perceptions.

Some possible alternatives were suggested for changing the way manure is handled by farms, but it’s understood that perhaps a quarter of those in attendance at the meeting don’t recognize that any problems exist. To many farmers, spills happen. According to what was said Monday, many discharges into streams and county drains are illegal only because of bad laws.

It doesn’t seem likely that area farm owners will invest millions of dollars to create methane digesters, as suggested by state senator Cameron Brown. If the subsidy were high enough, perhaps someone would take a chance with the technology, but that hasn’t occurred so far across the country. Sure, there are success stories here and there, but will they pan out in the long run? Can digesters really be expected to handle the millions of gallons of manure produced in the area by an estimated 10,000 dairy cows?

Nor does the likelihood of a central sewage treatment facility seem too strong. Will farmers be willing to drive tankers across the county to empty their manure, then haul treated sludge back to the farm for applications onto fields?

We sound pessimistic, but neither of the solutions presented Monday seems to carry much promise. Would state and federal dollars be available to pay for such facilities? Would people approve of the use of tax dollars to encourage additional large farms in the area?

This newspaper is obviously not held in high esteem by the owners of large livestock operations. A farmer speaking Monday—claiming to represent the livestock industry—charged that we write negative news about farming in order to sell papers.

We’re about to sink another notch with this editorial, but it seems that relying on technological fixes is not the solution to the problem of manure handling. When lagoons are on the brink of overflowing and farmers are forced to spread liquefied manure onto frozen fields, the eventual outcome with warmer weather is obvious. And so, too, is the problem. There’s simply too much manure produced in this area, and more is on the way with expansion of one farm and recent construction of a new one.

The scale of operation seems to have reached a point where that much manure can’t be properly handled.

    - Feb. 11, 2004