Central Pennsylvania formers are under a microscope in Washington, D.C. because runoff from their farms is harming the Chesapeake Bay. It's an environmental problem that the feds say must be cleaned up – and one farm in Lancaster County has found a green way to do that cleaning.
Kreider Farms has teamed with Bion Environmental Technologies for a pilot program to reduce the harmful nitrogen and phosphorous in cow manure. The waste is collected and fed to eager bugs and bacteria.
“The bacteria is oxygen starved and as it gets in there it's grabbing all the oxygen, but also grabbing the nitrogen and phosphorous as well,” former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said.
The leftover waste can ultimately be burned and used for electricity or re-applied to fields as fertilizer, but the lions share will not be flowing downstream, which is saving taxpayers money since they would be on the hook to clean it up.
“We have what's called a watershed implementation plan that has actions we have to take per the federal government,” said John Hines, Executive Deputy Secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “What this system does is offset those types of requirements.”
The project cost $7.5 million and is mostly funded by Bion through low interest loans and grants. Kreider's contribution is more manpower than up-front money. Having to do more work at a dairy farm is a big deal.
“We're just taking over operation of the treatment plant,” Ron Kreider said. “It'll be a full-time job to run the whole system down at the processing center.”
The state Department of Agriculture is intrigued by the potential. Ag Secretary George Greig hopes it can deliver on its clean and green promise.
“You never know for sure, but we'll be watching it very closely,” he said.
So will many others. There are many dairy farms near many waterways across America.
Bion officials said they can eliminate 70 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in cow manure.