WASHINGTON D.C. - After a summer mired in drought and pestilence, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is fighting hard to help out state dairy farmers.
During a recent conference call, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer launched his plan to allow Upstate New York dairy farmers to accommodate the larger herds that are needed to fully capitalize on the New York Greek yogurt boom.
More specifically, Schumer said he is fighting for the revival of the federal 1603 grant program that provides the upfront cash that is critical for dairy farms to construct 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," said Schumer. "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 what 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."
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.
In Chautauqua County, there are currently 211 dairy farms with less than 200 cows, with only 23 farms in the 100-to-200 cow range. Additionally, there are 213 dairy farms with less than 200 cows in Cattaraugus County, with only 17 farms in the 100-to-200 cow range.
According to Schumer, one of the largest reasons that state dairy farmers do not increase the size of their herd is that disposing of the additional manure would place too much of a burden upon them.
While reviving the federal 1603 grant program would help farms construct biodigesters to convert the organic waste into fertilizer and biogas, biodigesters can also turn why, a byproduct of yogurt production, into new renewable energy. These two factors in tandem, Schumer believes, would encourage state dairy farmers to increase their herd size to accommodate for the Greek yogurt boom.
"Upstate New York dairy farms must grow to meet new demands for milk and Greek yogurt, and that means one thing is for certain: more biodigesters are key to accommodating the larger herds that will soon be grazing New York's pastures," said Schumer. "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 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations 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."
There are currently 20 biodigesters across upstate New York, from Rensselaer to Chautauqua, ranging in size from digesters supported by a herd of 350 cows to ones with 3,500 cows.
The 1603 Grant Program has proven critical for numerous biodigester project to get off the ground, providing the capital start-up costs needed to build the facility, according to Schumer.
He also noted the critical need to revive this program, which expired at the end of last year. The program was created as a provision of the Recovery Act that is designated to reimburse eligible applicants through a one-time cash grant for renewable energy products. The grant is intended to offset a portion of the cost of installing specified energy property that is used in a trade business or production of income in lieu of tax credits available through other programs.
According to Schumer, biodigester facilities are an environmentally friendly and sustainable means of converting gas to energy through biological means that are less capital-intensive than large power plants. These facilities use anaerobic digestion processes to convert organic wastes into biogas. This not only creates a renewable source of electrical and heat energy, which can serve as a replacement to fossil fuels, but also produces nutrient-rich fertilizer materials. The use of biodigester facilities has further environmental benefits that the agricultural industry, one of the leading causes of global warming, has been able to harness, according to Schumer. By drawing on natural wastes for power, they also help cut down on powerful greenhouse gases like methane that are twenty times more dangerous than CO2.