November 5, 2010

Researchers To Study Effects Of Emissions At Dairy Farms

A team of researchers are planning to try and help dairy farmers cut greenhouse gas emissions like methane.

Nitrogen and carbon based greenhouse gases are produced through a complicated system at dairy farms that is affected by everything from the weather to the soil to the feed to cow burps, along with other things.

"Cows emit most of their methane through belching, only a small fraction from flatulence," said the project's principal investigator, Ruth Varner of University of New Hampshire (UNH) Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded UNH with $700,000 to create a computer model that measures the amount of greenhouse gases an organic dairy farm produces and to provide ways to cut those emissions.

Varner told the New Hampshire Union Leader the study will focus on farm waste.  Researchers will use the University's organic dairy farm to measure things like how spreading manure on pastures will affect the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

The idea is to use the various factors to create a computer model that farmers use to plug in their data.

"The real goal is to get a decision support tool that captures the very complicated biology of these systems and uses rigorous science that can support the model results," Bill Salas, president of Applied GeoSolutions LLC which is creating the computer model told the Leader's Clynton Namuo.

Salas said that small changes in the system can ripple through the system and affect the amount of greenhouse gas that is produced.

He said there are many ways to cut the amount of gas produced, such as leaving manure out rather than putting it in water. 

Londonderry-based Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley, of Wisconsin will test the computer model.

The grant UNH receives will also be used to create programs meant to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crops, which tend to be significantly more expensive.


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