Wisconsin cow power is expanding because it’s downsizing.
Wisconsin is the Dairy State – which we all know. I’ll throw out a few cow numbers. There are 1,261,000 dairy cows in Wisconsin and 13,000 of our dairy farms have an average herd size numbering under 100 cows, according to the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service.
That’s a lot of manure to keep out of our lakes and streams and a lot of manure that could be converted into electricity.
The good news is that anaerobic digesters are around to do the job and produce useable energy – however, they’re designed for farms with herds of at least 1,000.
It looks like that is about to change.
In March, Tomah-based USEMCO received a $200,000 grant to develop and demonstrate a manure digester that is better suited for the smaller farms. The money was part of a one-time grant for special agricultural facilities allocated in the 2010-2011 state budget and administered by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
In November, the completed digester was delivered to a 150-cow farm in Chaseburg to be tested under real-life conditions. Testing could take about a year.
If this prototype proves successful at the Chaseburg farm and other farmers hop on board, USEMCO could expand its Tomah plant and add about 40 jobs, according to the company.
La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative will be purchasing the electricity generated by the digester. It expects to obtain one-fourth of its energy from renewable sources within 15 years. So, the potential for hooking up these smaller farms is tremendous.
• More interesting cow and Wisconsin power facts: Wisconsin leads the nation in the agricultural application of anaerobic digesters with 25. Plus, we lead with the electricity produced by methane from these operations. New York is second.
Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She learned way too much about the digester process while researching for this blog.