U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants to allow upstate New York dairy farmers to accommodate the larger herds needed to fully capitalize on the Greek yogurt boom.
Specifically, Schumer is fighting for the revival of the federal 1603 grant program that provides the upfront cash for dairy farms to build biodigesters, which convert organic waste into a nutrient rich fertilizer and biogas, a renewable source of electrical and heat energy.
"Simply put, one of the main barriers family farmers face when expanding is the cost and difficulty of disposing of the increased manure," Schumer said. "Because biodigesters turn this cow waste into clean energy and nutrient-rich fertilizer, they can be an essential part of the plan to enable our dairy farmers to fully capitalize on the Greek yogurt boom. But, our cash-strapped farmers need help setting up this operation and that's why I am launching this drive to add resources to the 1603 loan program, which has a proven track record of helping our dairy farmers establish biodigesters."
HOW THE LAW HELPS
Under the newly proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulations for New York announced in August, 4,455 dairy farms with less than 200 cows could increase their herds by at least 100 cows to better meet the demand for milk fueled by the growing Greek yogurt industry, according to 2010 data from Cornell University. According to information from Schumer's office, there are 211 dairy farms in Chautauqua County with fewer than 200 cows and 213 dairy farms in Cattaraugus County with fewer than 200 cows.
As both yogurt production and dairy farms expand, the number of both regional and on-site biodigester facilities equipped to process their food and animal waste and protect the environment must also increase. In addition to manure, digesters can also turn whey, a byproduct of yogurt production, into new renewable energy providing the state's growing yogurt producers with a direct way to benefit from what they now simply send to disposal.
"Upstate New York dairy farms must grow to meet new demands for milk and Greek yogurt, and that means one thing's for certain: more biodigesters are key to accommodating the larger herds that will soon be grazing New York's pastures."
Sen. Charles Schumer
Schumer said the Section 1603 "Payments for Specified Renewable Energy Property in Lieu of Tax Credits" program provides cash rather than a tax credit, meaning 100 percent of the benefit goes directly to the project. For example, Synergy Biogas in Wyoming County utilized the 1603 program to receive a $2,372,406 grant, which allowed the farm to build its co-digestion biogas facility, which converts animal waste from the farm's herd and food waste from local food processors into energy that reduces the cost of the dairy's operation. Synergy also generates enough electricity to power about 1,600 homes. At least three biodigester projects, under Ch4 Biogas ownership alone, are said to be under active consideration and would be put within reach with Section 1603.
"Upstate New York dairy farms must grow to meet new demands for milk and Greek yogurt, and that means one thing's for certain: more biodigesters are key to accommodating the larger herds that will soon be grazing New York's pastures," Schumer said. "That is why I am reviving a critical federal grant program that has proven instrumental in jump-starting the construction of biodigesters across the country that will not only process the food and animal waste from expanding yogurt production, but also create new renewable energy for farms and local communities. New York must focus on developing more biodigesters to parallel growth in herds, in light of the planned new CAFO regulations. Over four thousand dairy farmers with fewer than 200 cows now stand to grow more easily, and this key energy incentive will help ensure that upstate New York is ready to capitalize on the explosive growth of the Greek yogurt industry."
On the call, Schumer was joined by Lauren Toretta, Vice President of CH4 Biogas and John Noble, president and CEO of Synergy Dairy, who discussed the importance of the Section 1603 program for their biodigester projects. They said by utilizing its natural resources better and the Greek yogurt industry, New York could play an even larger role in the dairy and food business.
Ch4 Biogas has at least three projects under active consideration that would be put within reach with 1603. The first is a digester under consideration in Lowville in Lewis County near Kraft Food's cream cheese plant, which would convert the plant' food waste and manure from up to 20 nearby dairies into renewable electricity and gas to heat the plant. The second is under consideration in Linwood in Livingston County, and would be fueled by waste at the Noblehurst Dairy. The third project is at a 3,000-cow dairy in Oneida County, which is 30 miles away from Chobani yogurt. Schumer said they are only three of the numerous projects across the state that could more easily begin construction if the Section 1603 were revived.