An Indigo Paper on Industrial Ecology

Creating systems solutions for sustainable development through industrial ecology

Manure into Gold: executive summary and links to the report

No silver bullets, no sacred cows.

This report proposes a strategic context for manure management in Ontario and focuses on priorities for short-term and long-term research and development financing. It proposes a possible mission statement that establishes a sustainable economic development context for this strategy:

“Ontario will lead the transition to sustainable animal farming and food production in Canada. An essential component of this transition will be identifying integrated technologies and business models that transform manure from a waste management and environmental problem into a valuable resource solution generating marketable products.”

Turning manure into gold requires mobilization of the economic self-interest of farmers, food processors, farm suppliers, technology companies, and trade associations. At the same time, government must be prepared to partner in economic development solutions that secure the public goods of livable communities, clean air and water, and healthy land. Integrated solutions using the opportunity of sustainable manure management will also help government reduce the costs of the negative impacts of poor management.

Making “the transition to sustainable animal farming and food production” a primary context for manure management creates a synergy between public and private interests. Ontario’s farm and food economy needs to build a new source of competitive advantage. In the past the strategy of encouraging large intensive livestock operations (factory farms) to come to Ontario and produce for export has driven many small farmers out of business and damaged rural communities.

But in recent years more and more countries are cutting off imports due to alarms like mad cow disease, avian flu, and contamination of crops and even meat from genetically modified organisms. On the positive side there is growing consumer demand for healthful food produced through ecologically managed farming and development of niche markets. Together these two trends could lead to a much greater emphasis of local-regional farms producing for local-regional consumption, which could be seen as a “silo-ization” of food markets.

So there are signs that a transition to sustainable farming in Ontario could be this new source of competitive advantage, with management of manure on farms integrated with the whole system of ecological farm practices.

Since application of manure to farm land should use only a limited portion of the amount produced, a range of technologies may be used to generate renewable energy and products. Manufacturing, building, and operating such technologies at the appropriate scale can also become a component of Ontario’s sustainable economic development policy.

links to download the report

In section 2 of this report we summarize the negative impacts of manure and other information on farming in Ontario, including the scale of production, the Manure Management Act, and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture sponsored project, Advanced Manure Management Technologies for Ontario (AMMTO) .

Section 3 of the report covers the two sides of manure management: integrated management on the farm and technologies for conversion of the resource into economic value. While farm practices for manure processing and technologies for conversion of manure and generation of energy and products, will play a role, they are only part of the larger system required for manure to become an economic resource rather than an environmental and waste management problem. This system has to integrate farm practices, selection of technologies, effective business models, support for venture development, and public policies.

In Section 3 of this report we summarize

Criteria for this integrated system;

An appendix to this section of the report is an Evaluation Matrix spread sheet summarizing the recommendations of this chapter:

1. the options for farm management, technologies for conversion, and administrative-managerial-policy levels.

2. the areas of environmental and social impact

3. R&D and capacity development priorities are keyed in the comments column.

This matrix gives our first cut assessment of the relative importance of each option for managing the different environmental and social impacts of manure. Electronically the matrix is an Excel file, Evaluation Matrix_Fin.xls.   

Section 4 explores alternative business models for manure management. A major obstacle to application of technologies for processing manure, such as anaerobic digesters and energy generation equipment, is the reluctance of farmers and large farm operations to incur the costs and technical problems of purchasing and operating such systems. Several business models are emerging to overcome this obstacle. Possibilities include farm ownership and operation; a third party builds, owns, and operates; utility company ownership; and farm co-operatives.

The business model used will be determined by scale of manure production, the technologies selected, and possible sources of other biomass materials for conversion to increase scale. The third party build, own, operate model, utilized by a dedicated company or a utility, provides the necessary technical and business due diligence process and continuity of management.  There is a strong rationale for the public sector to partner in any of these models: cutting pollution and health risks from poor manure management reduces public costs.

Sections 3 and 4 together offer major components of the broader strategy for making sustainable farming a major source of competitive advantage for Ontario. Many of the farm practices for manure management outlined here will partially contribute to farms achieving organic certification. The technologies will generate renewable energy from farm biomass residues and offer significant economic development opportunities.

links to download the report

Section 5 discusses the rationale for a transition to sustainable agriculture and food production in Ontario. This context enables the stakeholders to mobilize the economic development resources required for changes in farm practices and for adoption of new technologies, including public private partnerships, financing and incubation for ventures supporting farms in the transtion, public procurement programs, and R & D. The farm manure management practices and technologies we have outlined in Section 3 amount to first steps in a transition to sustainable animal farming. The business models of section 4 may make adoption of these technologies more feasible.

Section 5 and cases in the Appendix suggest principles for sustainable farming which may be summed up as: “The essentials are seeing one’s farmland as a living system embedded in a broader ecosystem and understanding how to manage all farm practices on the basis of this holistic perception.”

Section 7 recommends a set of research themes for short- and long-term R & D encompassing economic analysis, scientific research, agricultural technologies, farm practices, and capacity development. In brief, these are:

Recommendations for Short-term R&D

Economic analysis is required of the several different business models to determine which are feasible for different scales of application of manure processing technologies.

Evaluation of combined or sequenced symbiotic technologies and combinations of agricultural waste resources to achieve optimal scale of technology.

Biodiesel production from methane (anaerobic digestion) and combination with waste vegetable and animal oils, or with soy, corn or other crop oils produced for the purpose.

Mesophilic anaerobic digestion (AD) dependability/cost optimization; ‘least-cost’ AD for manure disposal, biogas production

Thermophilic, high-performance digestion for appropriate-scale applications on large farms, ILOs and co-ops
Intensive horticultural development associated with biogas production, waste heat opportunities

Constructed wetlands for pollution prevention, digester effluent treatment and manure management effluents treatment

Technological and economic barriers to distributed electrical generation from manure and other biomass sources: focusing technological choices with economic effects

Recommendations for Short-term Capacity Development

Geographic Information Systems and GIS-supporting data acquisition

Land use planning for technological scale and application optimization

Rectifying gaps in knowledge of pathogens, foodborne and water-borne illnesses in Ontario: Bringing public health administration and policy toward animal waste management up to the challenges

Long-term R&D investment priorities

Fuel cells for biogas conversion

Manure conversion to feed supplement

Phreatophytic woody plants for excess nutrient uptake, sustainable forestry, biomass energy and advanced materials recovery (pyrolysis, hydrolysis, gasification, etc.).

Links to download the full report as MS-Word files, prepared by Indigo Development for CRESTech Center, Toronto, Canada in May 2004

Download main report

Download appendices including case studies and technology descriptions

Download matrix evaluating farm practices and technologies to utilize manure and reduce its impacts.   

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