A team of University of Idaho researchers has secured a $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture — National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant to evaluate the use of bioproducts from dairy waste streams to enhance sustainability for all of Idaho agriculture and develop economic opportunities for the state’s dairy industry.
As the third-producing dairy state in the nation, Idaho’s dairy producers face major challenges in managing the manure that is generated with that ranking. This project will create useful bioproducts from dairy manure that can be transported and used in more distant areas for crop production or for value-added products such as plastics.
Mark McGuire, associate dean and director for the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, will lead the interdisciplinary effort that builds on existing research in the U of I’s Colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Engineering.
The five-year project is titled “Creating a New Bioeconomy for Dairies to Increase Nutrient Recycling, Enhance Productivity of Crops & Stimulate Prosperity in Rural America.” It includes a team of agronomists, economists, animal scientists, engineers and soil and water experts.
The goal is to support dairy producers in adopting technologies and processes that transform nutrients extracted from dairy manure into alternatives for commercial fertilizers and other value-added bioproducts to improve soils, sustain agricultural productivity, reduce environmental impacts, provide alternative income streams and create employment opportunities.
Research will evaluate the effectiveness and economic value of these bioproducts used on different soil types and the various commodities grown in traditional southern Idaho crop rotations while exploring the potential for product commercialization.
“This project also presents a significant economic opportunity for the dairy industry,” McGuire said. “It’s not just selling the milk nutrients, which traditionally comprises 90 percent of a dairy’s revenue stream, but also selling the crop nutrients that will hopefully support the economic sustainability of the industry.”
According to McGuire, this award emphasizes the importance of U of I’s effort to establish the nation’s largest research dairy, the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE), in Idaho’s Magic Valley.
“The grant is directly associated with why CAFE is needed,” McGuire said. “It is an assessment of how the dairy industry contributes to the sustainability of all agriculture.”
Research at CAFE will address constraints on water usage and environmental quality while supporting the agricultural sectors of the dairy, livestock, cropland and food processing industries and exploring solutions for long-term sustainability.
The CAFE research dairy is slated for completion in 2023 but research has already begun, including a recent effort to collect more than 800 soil samples at the dairy site to establish an environmental baseline that will be utilized in this research.
The award is funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Sustainable Agricultural Systems program. U of I is one of eight institutions nationwide to benefit from NIFA’s $90 million investment.
Other project leaders will include U of I researchers Erin Brooks, Mireille Chahine, Erik R. Coats, Aaron J. Johnson, Daniel G. Strawn, Michael S. Strickland and Olga Walsh.
This project, titled “Creating a New Bioeconomy for Dairies to increase Nutrient Recycling, Enhance Productivity of Crops & Stimulate Prosperity in Rural America,” is funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant No. 2020-69012-31871. The total project funding is $10,000,000 of which 100% is the federal share.
Award grant details can be found on NIFA’s website.