St. David's farm turning manure into electricity, other products

Cory Hurley
Published on October 11, 2013

ST. DAVID’S  The manure from about 1,200 cows at New World Dairy Inc. in St. David’s is now producing power and helping feed and bed the animals.

The anaerobic digester project the dairy farm has been working on for several years is now up and running. The manure from the dairy herd is being processed in the digester and producing methane gas, separated solids and a liquid component.

The yield will produce electricity through the methane gas, bedding from the separated solids, and will utilize the liquid stream in nutrigation, an application of plant nutrients through an irrigation system used to make cow feed.

It is an exciting time for Brent Chaffey, the company’s president.

“We have been under construction for three years, we have been in the planning stage for five years, and in research for the better part of 10 years,” he said. “It’s been a long process, and there’s a lot of money into it.”

In a prepared statement, he said the project has a $5 million price tag.


New technologies

Chaffey said it is important to study what other farmers are doing and, when possible, tap into new technologies that can help increase efficiencies. He said he has been eyeing this technology for more than 20 years. With its evolution, it became more viable for the western Newfoundland dairy farm.

He said it is an option for similar farmers, but that it should be something owners want to get involved in. For him, he said it is answering a number of issues they have been facing.

With a shortage of acceptable bedding available for the cows and the expense of shipping up to three tractor-trailer loads of material from saw mills to the farm, the digester is expected to save him a lot of hassle and money.

When the system reaches its full capacity — which he expects will be sometime next year — they will generate more than enough bedding for their needs. In fact, he suspects there will be an opportunity to sell the product to other farms.

The economic spinoffs of such a project can really be significant, if New World Dairy can reach an agreement to tap its power into the grid. That is not an option in Newfoundland and Labrador currently, Chaffey said.

Their system can put out about four million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, according to the president, enough to supply about 400 households.

“We currently use about a million with all of our operations,” he said. “We are going to consume about 25 per cent of what we produce, and the other 75 per cent will just go up in smoke until we can get a connection to the grid.”

The third byproduct will solely by used within the operation.

The entire process of pumping the manure from the reception pit into the digester until the products are received is about four weeks for this particular system.


Smell frowned upon

Before this system, the manure was used directly to fertilize the farm’s production of cow feed. That contributes to the smell, often frowned upon by people, and the contaminants present in manure remain. The digester neutralizes all harmful bacteria, and also eliminates the bad odour. There is an “earthy” smell generated.

The inorganic nutrients should produce larger yields in a shorter amount of time. Chaffey expects there will be a 50-100 per cent increase in yield on the acreages it is applied to.

New World Dairy held an official opening Thursday to acknowledge and showcase the project to its supporters, including the Research and Development Corporation, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and other government agencies.

The largest dairy farm in the province, and one of the largest in Canada, was incorporated in 2004.

The farm has a herd of more than 1,200 milking and dry cows, and roughly 1,000 heifers. The farm produces 33,500 litres of milk daily, or approximately 25 per cent of the industry’s daily production for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Research and Development Corporation, the provincial Crown responsible for improving Newfoundland and Labrador’s research and development performance, is supporting New World Dairy with the development of the anaerobic digester technology.

This technology can help modernize operations through eco-friendly methods in order to lower energy costs. The corporation invested $250,000 of a total project cost of $735,498.


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