Iowa farmers learn about anaerobic digestion at conference

November 9, 2023

Farmers looking to add economic and environmental value to their operations may find an ally in anaerobic digestion.

This week, Nov. 6-8, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and EPA Region 7 came together to co-host the Anaerobic Digestion on the Farm Conference – a comprehensive look at the anaerobic digester industry, which converts manure and other organic or biological materials to renewable biogas through a series of biological processes. Solutions from the Land was a proud partner in the educational three-day event.

“We want to be able to provide opportunities to producers who are considering anaerobic digesters for their farm, livestock or dairy operation, and how they can become involved in the industry, ” said Bryan Sievers, Iowa Smart Agriculture co-chair and a panelist and moderator of the event.

Day one attendees focused on an introduction to anaerobic digestion biogas production. Days two and three showcased various anaerobic digestion systems including designs, technologies and benefits to help farmers and industry stakeholders understand what opportunities are available in the United States.

Speakers also explained digester incentives made possible through the Inflation Reduction Act as well as the expanded role that renewable energy production will play in the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.

One of the kickoff speakers included Rod Snyder, senior advisor for agriculture to the EPA Administrator. As Sievers explained, Snyder is a “real advocate for renewable energy options for waste streams associated with agricultural production.” Snyder is also co-founder of the Sustainable Agriculture Summit – the leading annual sustainable agriculture conference in North America.

Additional kickoff speakers included:

  • Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and co-director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University.
    • Dr. Moore also served as the conference lead organizing the various speakers and workshops available to attendees
  • Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
  • Theresa Greenfield, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development State Director for Iowa
  • Kayla Lyon, Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Meg McCollister, an advisor and advocate with nearly two decades of experience serving nonprofits, candidates for public office and public policy campaigns

Sievers is no stranger to the anaerobic digestion industry, which makes a conference such as this even more special to the Iowa farmer.

In 2007, Sievers and his family knew they wanted to expand their beef cattle operation. But it wasn’t until after touring a facility in Mead, Nebraska, that the family was able to see first-hand how well an anaerobic digester could process manure for 28,000 head of cattle. 

“An anaerobic digester can work for a small or medium sized livestock facility – that includes dairy, as well as swine,” Sievers said. “Especially if you look at other substrates that can be used to feed that anaerobic digester. That’s where the idea of using cover crops and biomass from perennial prairie starts to come into play.”  

After getting home, the Sievers began designing, creating and engineering two anaerobic digesters that they were able to implement on their 2,400 head beef cattle facility. Between the manure from his herd and material from approximately 900 acres of cover crops, he said he has a model that works really well for his operation. An added bonus of incorporating two anaerobic digesters? The health of his soil.

“Our soil health has improved dramatically with what we call digesting: the fully digested organic material that comes out of the digesters on a daily basis,” Sievers said. “When we use that back on our fields as fertilizer it has tremendous, positive impacts because you’re not only putting nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and sulfur elements back on the soil to help produce next year’s crop or even that year’s crop, you’re also adding organic material back to your soil.”

Learn more about Sievers’ journey with anaerobic digestion in the Iowa Smart Agriculture: Circles of Life report. 

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