Mark Rodgers

March 5, 2009 06:00 PM

*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Mark Rodgers
West Glover, Vt.
Cow power in the form of electricity generated from methane digesters on farms is gaining popularity in Vermont.

There is currently only one operating digester in our county and around a dozen in the state, but the number is growing and so is public support for "green power.” Utilities that purchase power from dairy methane digesters allow customers to purchase this green power and charge the customers a surcharge over the regular rate. In turn, customers determine how much green power they want. We have businesses advertising that they are now 100% green powered, so the concept works.

However, with only 200 cows, we are considered not "big enough,” since most digesters are on farms with 400 to 1,000 cows with a suggested 400-cow herd size for a viable economic return on investment. I find it puzzling that small European farms have methane digesters. In India, a family with one or two cows has a basic digester (a garbage can in the ground with a gas line to a burner) to provide fuel to cook their meals. But in the U.S. we need to spend in excess of $1 million and have over 400 cows to construct a digester.

It seems that local, state and federal government would encourage an industrywide effort to harness this valuable resource escaping into the atmosphere. It is probably more cost-effective than the billions invested in ethanol production and could be part of an economic recovery plan.

I believe that in the next decade the possibility for us to generate power from wind, solar and methane and sell it back into the power grid would provide a profitable revenue stream for dairies of all sizes.

I have done very little research on trading carbon credits but suggested that our dairy cooperative take a look at bundling members' carbon credits and assist in marketing them as a block, just as they do with our milk. I have seen no action as of yet.

I am sure that, as with most ideas, if you want something done, you need to do it yourself. So I have discussed preliminaries with a physics teacher and a local grant writer to enlist their assistance in going forward with a plan for harvesting these new crops.

Rodger's January Prices  
Milk (3.96% bf, 3.19% prt): $16.41/cwt.
Cull cows: $80/cwt.
Springing heifers: $1,700/head
Alfalfa hay: Still cost-prohibitive at more than $320/ton
Ground corn: $177/ton
Whole cottonseed $300/ton

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