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home : news : DAIRY Saturday, May 02, 2009

4/30/2009 9:28:00 AM  Email this article Print this article
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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 bill.
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To read SB 5797, go to Once there, enter the bill number in the search box and click on "search."

Proponents hail digester reform
New law will allow food waste to be processed along with manure

Cookson Beecher
Capital Press

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 electricity.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill, SB 5797, into law on Earth Day, April 22. It will take effect July 26.

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."

Maas said that adding food waste to the manure results in more methane gas and nearly twice as much electricity.

"This will 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 companies.

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 everyone."

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 that."

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 landfills.

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 digester.

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 Energy.

"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."

On the 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.

Farm Power 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 quality.

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.

"Waste has a value now," he said.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail:

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