Further to the weekend’s cow poo story

According to the NZ Herald:

Power generated from cow dung has been identified as one way New Zealand could make billions from an emissions trading scheme.

It’s good to see some coverage of  emissions trading schemes  that is not presented as ‘environment vs economy’ but of the economy operating effectively within our environment.  This story says a pilot project is already up and running in North Canterbury and that a farmer with 850 cows could save up to $30,000 a year in electricity costs. Or you could let cows put their excrement here:

cows pissing in Grey River

60 Comments Posted

  1. Good thinking Kevyn – there is an issue with taller grasses and the clover which is forced to grow taller with it – the nectar becomes less substantial and doesn’t satisfy the bees – they have less energy, produce less honey, pollinate less efficienctly. If stock were able to feed from a mixed ley of grasses, plantains, yarrows, chickory etc. their ‘pats’ would be more patty and less liquid and this would suit your design better (they wouldn’t just leak through to the watertable). Cattle are forest edge dwellers naturally (think aurochs) and browse trees happily. Providing tree fodder like slash from the leguminous family means the beasts are healthier and require less/no anthilmintics. Your suggestion re. soil microbes is spot on. They’re the little guys we should be focused on. All wealth from the farm flows from them. Cows are well down the queue. Loose (but covered) topsoil, good – compacted, oxygen-defecient soil, baaaaad!

  2. Greenfly, I think the idea I mentioned may address the problem of methane and runoff from cowpats by:
    a) restricting the number that are deposited on each sq.m. of paddock per day
    b) allowing them to dry out so they will be powdered by the next lot of hooves grazing that paddock a few days later
    c) maintaining the grass at a height that better protects soil microbes from damage from raindrops, uv and windburn
    d) the hedges should reduce ground level windspeeds although the remaining wind may be more turbulent which should restrict the distance that dust will travel so their may be more loose topsoil for the the powdered cowpats to blend with.

  3. Cheers Mr Dennis – I’m one of a loose and growing-in-number ‘team’ all applying more and more of these ideas and sharing info and results – it’s a green knowledge wave 🙂
    collecting cow poo is becoming easier now in cooler parts of the country where herd homes are being built – plenty of scope for bio-gas there, especially in light of the rapid increase in stock numbers 🙁 The trick with poo in the paddock will be to capture the methane that comes off it by biological means and lock it into the soil biota. Shouldn’t be too hard to do – farmers are innovative and concerned for the environment, aren’t they?

  4. Greenfly: Thanks for a lot of excellent information, it is good to hear from someone who is practising what they preach and knows what they are talking about.

    Bigblukiwi:
    “mr dennis – in what way are cow poo and waterways ‘completely different issues’. Cow poo allowed to runoff into streams causes pollution – using it to generate gas for fuel does not. Quite simple really.”

    No, not so simple. The cow poo that can be collected to generate gas for fuel is that already being collected in the shed. Whether you use it to produce fuel or spread it on a paddock (away from waterways of course) makes little or no difference to pollution in streams. The cow poo that ends up in the streams is that which the cows do out in the paddock – which cannot be feasibly collected to produce methane.

    This is why, in practice, biogas and stream pollution are completely unrelated issues.

  5. Kevyn – interesting stuff. Another ‘solid starting point for sustainable dairying’ – sebatical fallow. I was interested too, in your mention of hedges. Hedgerows and farming ought to go together here in NZ, but the reality is quite the opposite. And beetle banks. All excellent insurance against the kinds of ills that plague monocultures.

  6. This discussion reminded me of this article at worldchanging:
    Can Cattle Save Us From Global Warming?
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//008338.html

    When I read it it struck me as a solid starting point for sustainable dairying. Since dairy herds are used to be lead to the shed twice a day it should even be possible to automate the process. Start by divide the farm into small paddocks seperated by hedges – this will reduce water runoff problems at no extra charge. Equip each hadge with an automatic gate and some sought of device to encourage the herd to move through the gate to the next small paddock when the gate is opened. A simple computer program should be able to program the herd movements so that they circle back to milking shed by milking time so that less labour is needed. If I understand the system described in the article this way of doing it will reduce the need for fertlizer and irrigation by letting the grass recover from grazing naturally while still being able to run high stock rates per hectare.

  7. To: phil(whoar.co.nz)
    If you stopped blogging really quite stupid input & did some research you might find out [without the help of the media] what the Greens have acheived, what we stand for [If you are ‘Blue” you might not have heard of principles] , you might find out that unlike some hollow men the Greens have [on the web site] a full range of policies. For you to claim you have no idea what the Greens stand for- have done etc leads me to believe I have just wasted 3 minutes of my time to someone who won’t open his eyes to whats really going on. Shit I really don’t like encouraging you cos you are bound to reply -Guess what I don’t visit the blog very often -gee I wonder why.
    Rewi

  8. So the radish basically displaces the soil and then rots down and provides food for worms/bugs ?
    That is a very clever idea, have you tried it yourself?
    I assume you would only do it every now and then as part of a crop rotation?

    This is the stuff on sustainability that the greens should push, it is a practical solution towards sustainability.
    What do ya know, you learn something new every day, even on frog blog!

  9. Daikon is a ‘japanese radish’ and they grow huge! maybe as long as your leg and as thick. They move a lot of ground. They taste excellent also. I’m very interested in these sorts of ‘appropriate technologies’, especially those that employ plants. Not many ploughs can reproduce, nor are they as quiet or as biodegradable. Or as edible.

  10. I am very interested in what “daikon seeds” are, is it a type of radish?
    That is actually a very interesting idea. I assume a plough could be a last resort to very hard ground?

  11. Sharunda barundra – ploughing is a very poor second-best way to introduce organic matter to the soil. More is lost than is gained over all. Earth worms do a far, far superior job of it. They thrive best under living, growing cover. I wish you would, “give up on the old plough” – it is a shocking piece of technology. If you must ‘plough’ to break up hard ground (ground should never be hard) use daikon seeds. Sow and grow. The enormous radish will break open any soil then rot down to allow water and air in and of course feed the miriad of microorganisms that just love to work for you! (on any scale you like!)
    You finish with,
    “True sustainability would have to involve a total shift from current practice.
    That’s visionary stuff! All power to you for that!

  12. Ploughing can also introduce organic matter and therefore carbon, into the soil tho.
    for example laying a paddock/seedbed to rest with rye grass or lupins and then ploughing the organic matter back in. High carbon organic matter like sawdust could also be applied directly, so I wouldn’t give up the old plough just yet!
    There is no way to match current farm output with truely sustainable practice on the same size patch of land, its impossible.
    True sustainability would have to involve a total shift from current practice.

  13. kahikatea – you are spot on with this
    “I seem to recall reading somewhere that ploughing also contributes to the greenhouse effect by reducing carbon sequestration in the soil.”

    This is modern man’s single-most destructive ‘act’ , the ploughing of soil. Conventional farmers are loathe to admit (or recognise) that soil loss to the air through exposure by ploughing is a reality and one that robs us of our greatest treasure – top soil.
    Mr Dennis – extrapolate out the methods of a small scale farmer (that is replicate in units, not just make bigger) and you’ll begin to develop a sustainable large scale venture that brings the advantages, savings and resilience of a small scale operation. In answer to your question about the scale of my operations, I have presently two orchards, one of 1 hectare and one half hectare along with a 1/2 hectare vegetable garden and another ‘food forest’ of 1 hectare (plus several other developing orchard/gardens) I was managing a 1000 acre reveg project where I employed some of the methods I talked to you about and have developed a town scale reed bed system for sewerage and some other reveg projects as well. Plus some other stuff.

  14. mr dennis – in what way are cow poo and waterways ‘completely different issues’. Cow poo allowed to runoff into streams causes pollution – using it to generate gas for fuel does not. Quite simple really.

  15. kahikitea:
    If you use the biogas to generate electricity, there is a lot of heat produced too. This heat can then be used to heat greenhouses etc.

    You are right about ploughing and carbon sequestration.

  16. greenfly:
    Yes, the californian thistle example was real, and the farm I was thinking of were supplying Watties! It is good to hear your experience and that you know what you are talking about, I’m learning a lot. The one question I would still have is however, isn’t there still a need for large-scale producers? Small-scale producers certainly fill a niche, but the large numbers of people we have living in cities require large-scale production I would think. What scale are you using those techniques on? If a small scale, how applicable are they to large-scale production?

  17. Threadjacking yet again Phil!

    This thread is about cow poo! If you’d like one about Green achievements, then it’s up to frog to start one.

    I might give him/her a prompt about that.

  18. i wasn’t asking about strategy..valis..

    ..i was asking you to tell me what has been achieved..

    ..the past..not the future..

    ..phil(whoar.co.nz)

  19. Mr Dennis Says:
    >Organic cropping requires more cultivation (to control weeds) than conventional cultivation, where herbicides can be used. It would take far less fossil fuel to produce a herbicide and spray it than to cultivate a paddock. The fossil fuel use (and emissions from fuel use) would be higher on an organic farm than a conventional one (unless you are using oxen of course!).

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that ploughing also contributes to the greenhouse effect by reducing carbon sequestration in the soil.

  20. Converting biogas into electricity is always going to be inefficient. What about using it as gas? For example, could you make biogas from the cow poo from a milking shed, pipe it to a nearby greenhouse, and use it for heating the greenhouse?

  21. Mr Dennis – is your cali thistle/pea example a real one? I’ll assume it is and also that the peas are being grown in what was recently pasture. Therein lies the problem. The rotation is at fault and a better managed round would dissuade the thistles. I wonder too, at the scale of the operation. Like cow farming, market gardening draws all sorts of problems to itself when it sacrifices managability for size. The thistles are filling a niche – the grower needs to introduce a plant to take the niche from the thistle (one that doesn’t have troublesome seeds) Who are the peas being grown for? Watties? A big ‘receiver’ of product (famous for their bad downstream effects, those big processing outfits – see “Fonterra’) or a small local market? It’s about scale. And diversity of product. Is the grower employing local labour or using machines to harvest. (The Luddites weren’t thoughtless thugs, nor were they anti-progress, just caring of the locals 🙂
    btw Mr Dennis, I’m an orchardist and a grower of veges for a local market and I use these methods and others to good effect. (I’m also bristling a little at the suggestion earlier by one poster that green supporters don’t join discussions on environmental issues – I’m thinking most of them aren’t bent over a keyboard so much as others 🙂

  22. greenfly:
    Yes, that sounds nice. But if you have, say, californian thistles growing in your pea crop, you get thistleheads in your peas as they are the same size and aren’t sorted out by the machinery. You need to hand weed, hand sort your peas (impractical), or come up with some method of weed control.

    Soil health is vital. But improving it won’t stop weeds – it will make it easier for them to grow too. Weeds are just plants in the wrong place.

    I’m not rubbishing your ideas, you have an excellent point that may work in some circumstances. In forestry for example the main weed (gorse) can be a good nurse crop for your trees, and will naturally die out later. In a private garden you can cope with weeds. But in a commercial arable situation, like with the peas I just mentioned, you actually need to get rid of weeds.

    Good on you if you can come up with actual, workable “alternative ways of thinking about weeds” for commercial farms. It will be a challenge though.

  23. For example, the French Bio-intensive where soil is always covered by leaf, through close planting and immediate replanting when a vegetable is harvested. Or Mr Fukuoka’s seedball methods, where new crops are sown onto the standing remains of the previous crops. Bare soil is a stupidity. Orchards and vineyards with no groundcover are a crime against nature.

  24. Mr Dennis – there are alternative methods of weed control and there are alternative ways of thinking about weeds as well! The view that you need to kill them, your first and seemingly only approach, could be standing in the way of seeing your way clear to a non-emission, negative-emission practice. The primary mission of a good grower is to grow, grow and grow, not kill. Weeds (plants?) ‘suck stuff up’ – isn’t that what we are looking for? Microbes of all colours and creeds (thriving in a fulll-canopy, living cover garden or field) capture and transform molecules and sequester like crazy. Can you see potential here for a managment system that builds soil, sequesters carbon as its primary function. Steam weeding is a poor system by all measures. Use plants to manage plants. Use plants to clear the air! 🙂

  25. Well there are arguments and studies around (that i admittedly am not about to research right now) that looking after soil health i.e. organic agriculture, will achieve better yields than killing everything. There are more reasons, but I would not say ‘chemical free’ is THE primary reason for organics – depends who you ask I guess.

  26. greenfly:
    Yes, there are alternative methods of weed control. One for instance is to kill weeds with steam (large quantities of it!) instead of herbicides, allowing minimum-tillage in an organic system. Again however, producing this amount of steam burns more fossil fuels than producing herbicide.

    I am sure there are low-emission ways of farming organically on a commercial scale, but this isn’t the purpose of organics. The primary purpose of organics in my mind is to produce food free of chemical residues. All else is secondary, and can contradict the first aim.

  27. c’mon valis..scoop displays every press release from everyone..

    …your point..?

    (is issuing press releases ‘it’..?..)

    ..my point still hasn’t been answered..

    ..aside from the three i listed..

    ..what have i missed..

    (and c’mon..laila harre said much the same thing…the other day..

    ..saying the greens really need to rethink their strategy..

    ..because they are invisible to the naked eye..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

  28. Mr Dennis – good info thanks – remember though, there’s organics and there’s organics. The ideal organic system will employ methods that do reduce emmisions that are harmful to the biosphere/atmosphere. If particular managment systems don’t achieve this, they should be criticised in the same way non-organic systems are. You mention the extra cultivation needed to manage weeds in organic cropping – again, this method needs to be challenged and superceded by a better system (and there are better systems). It’s clear to me that ‘organics’ (as you describe it) is a step foward from ‘conventional’, but that there are further steps, already existing that you/anyone can take beyond both of those.

  29. In terms of environmental effects, no DCD actually washes through the soil into waterways that I am aware of, this was one of the first things to be tested in trials. There are many different nitrification inhibitors available, but DCD (the active ingredient of “eco-n”) is used in NZ in part because of its safety in the environment. I wouldn’t be too worried about this.

    I understand the long-term effect of application on soil microorganisms is currently under study, I need to check the literature to see if anything has been published yet on this. But I would suspect there is little effect. This is because DCD does not actually act on the organisms themselves, but blocks some of the enzymes they produce. It has no direct effect on the organism, so although it may have an effect on their competitiveness if their enzymes aren’t working as well as before it won’t have anywhere near the effect of a pesticide (it may influence microbial community structure a little but shouldn’t kill off any members of that community).

    You suggest organic production to reduce emissions. I must point out that:
    – Nitrous oxide emissions from soil come from urine patches, and are high whether or not you are applying synthetic fertiliser. Organics does not reduce nitrous oxide emissions from soil by any great extent.
    – Organic cropping requires more cultivation (to control weeds) than conventional cultivation, where herbicides can be used. It would take far less fossil fuel to produce a herbicide and spray it than to cultivate a paddock. The fossil fuel use (and emissions from fuel use) would be higher on an organic farm than a conventional one (unless you are using oxen of course!).

    Farm forestry, mixed swards, organics and all that do have other benefits. But just because something seems green for other reasons does NOT mean it reduces emissions – it may do the opposite.

  30. Valis said: Your post is so full of misinformation…

    It’s also a blatant threadjack. Let’s try to stay at least somewhat on topic.

  31. Just ridiculous phil. Your post is so full of misinformation (Nandor being pushed for instance) I don’t even feel the urge to educate you. I can’t help that media don’t give more coverage, but there are a zillion press releases on the net that anyone can see if they care to look. So if you really have no idea what the Greens have been on about, try scoop http://www.scoop.co.nz/archive/scoop/index.html?k=219.

  32. Charlie Pederson (goodbye Charlie 🙂 said he used them and they were awesomely effective on his farm. Southland farmers say the inhibitors don’t work down south in the cooler climes. More chemical on the paddocks – how are the whitebait going to react to another substance washing into their habitat. Cranking down the stock numbers would be an action that would result in less off-gasing and healthier bait.

  33. StephenR, I am not familiar with how it is produced, but I’d say it is fossil fuel based, most synthetic organic compounds seem to be these days. It is made in China and imported too… The active compound (DCD) is not dissimilar in structure to urea, which has a large fossil fuel requirement to produce it.

    Having said that though you only apply a miniscule 10kg/ha per application, so the emissions associated with its production would be far, far lower than the emission reduction caused when it is applied. It does work well.

  34. StephenR said: Eh? ‘nitrification inhibitors are good!’ vs ‘no, they’re REALLY good!’?

    No. Nor is it quite how Mr Dennsi put it.

    It is whether to go down the path of advocating use of nitrification inhibitors to reduce agricultural N2O emissions because climate change is such a serious threat that whe should ignore the potential dangers of the inhibitors themselves. Certainly some Greens, and I’m one of them, would suggest that we should not be advocating the use of technology that hasn’t been properly evaluated.

    We don’t know what nitrification inhibitors do to the soil or the bacteria in it long-term, nor do we know the impact of the run-off from them in streams and rivers. I’d rather see de-intensification of dairying, encouragement of organic production, encouragement of farm forestry, mixed farming, complex mixed swards as the primary means of addressing agricultural greenhouse emissions – rather than reliance on technology that has been proven to be effective but largely untested in terms of environmental impact.

    Others say the problem of climate change is so serious and so urgent that we should use every tool at our disposal to combat it, including those such as nitrification inhibitors that themselves have potentially adverse environmental impacts.

    Oops, I was meant to be saing this discussion for g.blog – seems like we’re having it here.

  35. >>That’s why we welcome (or tolerate, as the case may be) the likes of you here BP.

    I’ve walked La Ramblas, but not with real intent.

    >>And you are welcome to comment over at g.blog as well

    I don’t see the point of that blog.

  36. phil u – I have a suggestion – many green activists find that waving a green flag acts in the same way as waving a red (to a bull) and get on with activating/achieving grassroot changes, establishing the foundations for the recognisably green building blocks that follow.

  37. ah thanks Mr Dennis – it would be a little ironic if they were fossil fuel based, but hard to tell from a quick google…

  38. what are those ‘ideas’..?..valis..

    i’m sorta struggling to answer the question..

    ‘..what are the greens all about..?..’

    ..what is their focus..?

    ..what are their priorities..?

    ..what do they see as our priorities..?..as a nation..

    ..what are their ‘talking points’..?

    ..why aren’t they out there..?..banging on about their solutions/ideas..?

    ..what are they passionate about..?

    ..why do we hear/see nothing from them in the media..?

    ..the last three years have been the anti-smacking bill..(which i support)..

    and the election finance bill..(which is proving to be more and more of a ‘crock’..

    ..and getting rid of nandor..(which was your biggest mistake..)

    ..please valis..looking back at the last three years..

    ..tell me what else the greens have been about..save that..?

    ..phil(whoar.co.nz)

  39. Ah right well the fact that subsidies were needed is probably more important than any nitpicking about costs at the mo. 9 years not bad, but for the subsidies. The key here is that by the sounds of it this particular company has improved on existing methods, so perhaps subsidies aren’t needed, we’ll see I guess. Always interesting to get a story opining on the opportunities offered by the ETS, rather than…alarmism too.

  40. BluePeter said: After all, they don’t appear to be commenting much on that other “nice? (and debate-free) Green blog, either.

    There’s not much point in “debating” when you largely agree with the other person. That’s why we welcome (or tolerate, as the case may be) the likes of you here BP.

    And you are welcome to comment over at g.blog as well – it might get some debate going there. Maybe I should post something over there that’s a wee bit controversial even within the Greens to stir up a debate – nitrification inhibitors perhaps?

  41. StephenR:
    No, I cannot remember costs, I visited a plant on a field trip for an agricultural conference in Spain and cannot find my notes now.

    It is perfectly possible to do biogas cheaply on a small scale, such as is done in third-world countries. The issue is making a plant on a large enough scale to generate electricity cost-effectively so you actually get a return on your investment. I recall the electricity prices paid to the plant we visited were 2-3 times the market rate (due to subsidies), and it was only through this that the plant was economic (I think it still would take 9 years to recoup the initial investment even with these inflated prices, but my memory doesn’t serve me well).

    This plant was producing methane from pig slurry, food scraps and sewage sludge, and using this to fire a generator selling power to the grid, and provide heat for the pigsheds and a large greenhouse. A very nice looking setup but as I said only economic with massive subsidies.

  42. >>they don’t like the comments section here for the tone and language that a lot of the commenter’s use

    I think it is more likely they don’t like their ideas being held up to the light.

    After all, they don’t appear to be commenting much on that other “nice” (and debate-free) Green blog, either.

  43. That was to Mr Dennis. Who incidentally is right about this being a separate issue to waterways, but I don’t think frog was being deceptive, more just using the issue as an excuse to bang on about poo in rivers. Do you know much about the approximate costs for this sort of thing Mr Dennis? I know they’ve been doing bio gas from pigs in Fiji and some of the other islands for a while too, without the subsidies.

  44. The environmental bits are accepted, and not really debatable? I would wonder how many out and out supporters frequent this forum anyway. Some might also not feel the need to be cheerleaders either.

  45. If you talk to a lot of green party members and supporters in person they don’t like the comments section here for the tone and language that a lot of the commenter’s use – I would humbly suggest that most Green Party members are to busy out in first life.

    One should never draw the inference that just because someone is commenting on frog blog they are a green party supporter. Some are openly hostile some have there own agenda. Perhaps the above could be used to draw some idea of the agenda of a block of commenters.

  46. Funny that when there is a post on National’s party list, or polls, or finance companies, there are scores of replies.

    Then if the environment is mentioned, virtually no-one is interested. Go back through the past 30 posts or so and you’ll see what I mean, this is a fairly consistent trend, not just this post.

    What does this say about the Green party and (more importantly) their supporters?

  47. Exactly kahikatea, which is why it has nothing to do with water quality (which involves all the rest of the poo while they’re free-ranging) and frogs post is (deliberately?) deceptive.

  48. Mr Dennis Says:
    August 18th, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    > Having said that biogas does work and is a good form of recycling. It is important to note however that such plants can only survive in Europe with massive subsidies, so they may not be economic here.

    and that’s probably with battery cows. with free-range cows like we have here, you’re not going to catch a very large proportion of their poo.

  49. It is rather deceptive to imply that biogas production could help waterways – they are entirely separate, unrelated issues.

    Having said that biogas does work and is a good form of recycling. It is important to note however that such plants can only survive in Europe with massive subsidies, so they may not be economic here.

    I have been to one in Europe and it was quite impressive, producing both heat and electricity, so I do like them. I’m just being practical.

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