Kevin Maas of Farm Power Northwest, a
company that develops anaerobic digesters, looks
on while his brother and colleague Daryl
introduces 3-year-old Johan Maas to Gov. Chris
Gregoire after she signed a bill to allow
Washington farmers and ranchers to mix food
byproducts with manure in their biodigesters. To
the right is Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano
Island, who sponsored the
read SB 5797, go to apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo.
Once there, enter the bill number in the search
box and click on "search."
hail digester reform New law will
allow food waste to be processed along with
A new law that
will allow certain food byproducts to be used with manure in
anaerobic dairy digesters will help Washington state dairy
farmers and food processors alike, said Daryl Maas, co-owner
of Farm Power Northwest.
Based in Skagit County, Farm
Power develops anaerobic digesters that convert manure into
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill, SB
5797, into law on Earth Day, April 22. It will take effect
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island,
sponsored the bill and said that while anaerobic digesters are
great at turning manure into energy, "they're even more
efficient when you toss in some food waste."
that adding food waste to the manure results in more methane
gas and nearly twice as much electricity.
make the digesters more affordable for dairy farmers," Maas
said, referring to the additional income that can be earned by
selling the increased amount of electricity to power
Maas and his brother, Kevin are co-owners
of Farm Power Northwest. They ran into a wall of bureaucracy
and regulations when they tried to find a way to add food
byproducts to manure without having to get a solid waste
permit from the state.
Under state law, the state's
Department of Agriculture regulates dairy waste, while the
Department of Ecology regulates food waste under a complex set
of solid-waste regulations. When the Ecology Department proved
too slow in coming up with a solution, the brothers turned to
Haugen and Gregoire for help.
After the bill signing,
Daryl Maas praised Haugen for helping bring different
government agencies together to find a solution that "benefits
When looking at the far-ranging benefits of
the bill, Maas said that it gives dairy farmers and food
processors a clear pathway and good guidelines for what can be
used in a digester.
"The fear was that if you got a
digester and used food waste in it, it could trigger a whole
new set of regulations," he said. "Now you'll be able to
operate more profitably and not have to worry about
Under the bill, digesters can't use high-risk or
post-consumer waste. Still, it's an advantage for food
processors, which have another option besides
Chicken processor Draper Valley Farms
currently trucks wash water from its Skagit County plant over
the mountains to a landfill in Eastern Washington, company
Vice President John Jefferson said. Under the new bill, the
processing plant will be able to ship it to the nearby dairy
Currently under construction, the $3.5
million digester, which will use manure from two nearby dairy
farms, will be up and running in August.
"This is a
beautiful deal for us," Jefferson said. "And at the end of the
day, it's good for everyone because the digester generates
electricity from the waste."
Farm Power's digester in
Skagit County will produce 750 kilowatts - enough to power 500
houses. The power will be sold to Puget Sound
"That's just over one-half of one percent of
Skagit County's power supply," Maas said. "It's not huge, but
it's real, especially since new power is so hard to get.
They're not building dams anymore."
environmental front, Maas said that dairy digesters are
becoming increasingly important, especially in Western
Washington, where there are so many sensitive waterways. By
processing the manure, digesters reduce the risk of
contaminating nearby waterways with manure.
is currently working with several farmers in King County who
are interested in having the company develop and build a
digester for them. Maas said that the county's Department of
Natural Resources and Parks has been supportive of the
proposed project, primarily because it will help water
Farm Power is also working on other possible
projects in Western Washington, with farmers in four other
counties expressing interest.
For Maas, this surging
interest represents a 21st century view of
"Waste has a value now," he said.
writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.