I’d like to add some heft to the old adage that farmers and ranchers are some of the most conscientious and right-minded conservationists we have (due respect to the myriad conservationist groups out there).
A little more than a year ago, the Huls dairy farm in the Bitterroot Valley installed a methane digester, the first such machine in Montana (these were developed at Utah State University and installed by Andigen, of Logan, UT.
According to the Ravalli Republic, the dairy, owned by four Huls brothers – Bruce, Tim, Jeff and Dan—was accustomed to loading up a truck equipped with a 63,000-gallon tank for manure slurry about 400 times a year. The smelly concoction was spread out across his pastures and hayfields.
The digester in essence converts the manure into usable methane gas, which creates the electricity to run the farm.
Missoula Magazine, which also ran a piece on this story, reports that the digester will “reduce the amount of solids coming out of the dairy operation by up to 50 percent. Pathogens don’t stand a chance inside the tanks, which are heated to 100 degrees. The water that comes out the other end makes for better fertilizer. And for the neighbors living downwind: The process kills the odor.”
This is a critical move, in terms of conservation. Methane gas may be the worst of all pollutants, as it is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide, according to the EPA, and agriculture create most of the methane we emit.
Some of the capital required to install this digester came from the Montana Community Development Corp., the Bitterroot Valley Economic Development Authority and the U.S. Natural Resources and Conservation Service.
It’s great news, and yet another reason to support local producers—they care about the places they live. Dan Huls says that “We want to do everything we can to mitigate our impacts to the environment, not only for us, but our neighbors as well.”
Huls is the largest dairy in Montana, but rest easy: this is not agribusiness we’re talking about (the Republic says that they “run 750 cows on the place, with 260 producing milk at a time”).
While large operations like Dean Foods tout their commitment to the environment by putting in digesters, they are also acting in the best self-interest: 4,700 cows create a lot of manure.
Let’s support the local farmers who are acting in all of our best interests: by producing healthy, safe products, and protecting our last best place at the same time!