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Idaho Sustainable Agriculture Initiative for Dairy

The state of Idaho currently ranks as the third largest producer of dairy in the nation, more than tripling its previous rank of 11th 25 years prior. With this exponential growth, the dairy industry is faced with major challenges regarding the handling and processing of liquid and solid manure. The high concentration of nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) due to imported feed and fertilizer use have created an environment where these nutrients are not sufficiently used by the soil and plants. The Idaho Sustainable Agriculture Initiative for Dairy grant, a USDA Sustainable Agriculture systems grant has proposed a plan to use N and P from dairy production to produce useful bioproducts that can be transported and used in other areas for crop production or value-added products such as bioplastics.

The project goal is to support adoption of these technologies and processes that transform nutrients in dairy manure into commercial fertilizers and value-added bioproducts to improve soils, sustain agricultural productivity, reduce environmental impacts, provide alternative income streams and create new employment opportunities. Overall, to create a system known as a dairy bioeconomy.

A dairy centered bioeconomy is the overall framework for the project, with production and conversion of renewable biological resources and waste streams into value-added products such as food and fuel (Figure 1).

Figure: Dairy bioeconomy
Figure 1: Dairy bioeconomy

One successful strategy to develop a dairy bioeconomy is to integrate systems to produce multiple products that maximize use of the raw material, in this case manure. A bioeconomy often involves a value-web which merges multiple supply chains to create production groups that include both recycling and cascading uses (re-use of a product or residue of a previous process for additional upgraded products) that fully capture the potential uses of the raw material. The system can be partially or entirely circular as elements are recycled for continuous re-use in different portions of the system. This increases system efficiency, improves human health by using problematic wastes as raw material, conserves water and energy, and reduces climate impacts. Other examples of bio-economies create value-added products for sale in more distant areas from where excess raw materials are generated to provide economically viable removal of environmentally or socially problematic production byproducts.

With an established dairy bioeconomy model in mind, four main objectives of the grant are as follows:

  1. Develop management practices, processes, and technologies to produce bioproducts from dairy waste streams at the scale they are generated.
  2. Evaluate strategies and tradeoffs of bioproduct soil amendment use in crop production at multiple scales from field to regional dairy nutrient system to regional and national scales of fertilizer production.
  3. Analyze the economic, life cycle, supply chain and social impacts of adoption of strategies, technologies, and systems that convert dairy manure to fertilizer substitutes and other bioproducts on dairies, aligned industries, crop producers, consumers and rural communities.
  4. Develop and implement extension, outreach, education, and training activities to broadly disseminate research findings, promote adoption of practices and technologies, increase the knowledge and skills of the dairy workforce, and inform policy and decision making.
close up of a dairy cow's head in herd

Striving to complete these objectives are a team of 78 involved grant positions including undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, Extension and alumni all lead by Professor and Associate Dean Mark McGuire.

Working together on the Idaho Sustainable Agriculture Initiative for Dairy grant towards its objectives, continuing its sustainable practices by creating a dairy bioeconomy in the southern Idaho dairy industry. The team hopes its efforts and initiative will continue to grow and be implemented on all industry scales for many years to come.


Mailing Address:
315 Falls Avenue East
Twin Falls ID 83301

Phone: 208-736-3600

Fax: 208-736-0843