Others join Deerfield Bar-Way Farm in turning manure into energy

The Greenfield Recorder, May 29, 2017

For years, dairy farmers have used cow manure as fertilizer to spread over crops like corn and hay. But some farms in western Massachusetts have a new use for all that manure — renewable energy.

The farms, in Deerfield, Hatfield and Granville, are embarking on a project to turn cow manure into electricity as a way to become self-sustaining and stabilize their finances in what they say is a volatile market.

Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield began churning out power from a mix of manure from its 500-cow herd and food byproducts earlier this year, even though farmer Peter Melnick says he’s still waiting for Eversource to connect the new methane digester to the grid so he can get paid for excess electricity that’s now being produced and essentially going to waste.

Meanwhile, Luther Belden Farm in Hatfield and Rockwood Farms in Granville are working in partnership with the Hampshire Council of Governments and Pennsylvania-based startup Ag-Grid Energy, with hopes of breaking ground on two on-site agricultural anaerobic digesters this summer.

Bar-Way’s $5 million digester, which can generate 1 megawatt of electricity and heat around the farm, with help from 50 tons of organic food waste a day brought in by truck, is nearly six months overdue for being hooked up to the grid.

For now, he said, the new system is simply producing enough power to run the digester itself.

Once that’s hooked up, he’s planning to celebrate with a big open-house for the community.

From the digester, the 7 million gallons of material goes into a separator that yields about 3 percent solids onto a small conveyor belt for use as cattle bedding material and liquid digestate, which can be spread on fields.

Bar-Way has been planning to sell off 85 percent of the 1 megawatt of power the digester generates every day, with the rest siphoned off to run the system and the farm.

Of the 7,755 farms in the state, only 155 are dairy farms, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. It is not an easy industry to work in, dairy farmers say.

“Milk prices are very volatile, they always have been. It seems to be getting worse. The thing is, we’re sort of part of the world market, so we’re subject to world prices,” said Darryl Williams, 56, of Luther Belden Farms.

Williams said the digester is an approximately $2 million investment made possible with the help of a number of state and federal grants.

The electricity produced by the Hatfield and Granville digesters will power the farms and leftover energy will be sold in the form of net metering credits to municipal entities in the Eversource customer zone. The Hampshire Council of Governments will facilitate the net metering credit sales.