UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Four research teams in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently were awarded a total of more than $1.4 million in Conservation Innovation Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grants will fund research aimed at developing innovative conservation technologies and approaches that address existing and emerging natural-resource issues.
The awards are among 52 grants that were announced recently by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service to help some of America's top agricultural and conservation institutions, foundations and farmers develop unique approaches to enhancing and protecting natural resources on agricultural lands.
"The grants will help to spur creativity and problem solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Everyone who relies upon the sustainability of our nation's natural resources for clean water, food and fiber, or their way of life, will benefit from these grants."
The following Penn State projects received grants:
-- "Use of a Stackable Material Anaerobic Digester for Combined Heat and Power Generation, Manure Odor Reduction and Food Waste Energy Recovery," $1 million.
"We will be operating and experimenting with a type of anaerobic digester -- often referred to as a stackable manure digester, or dry digester -- that is uncommon in the United States but has been proven in Europe," said project leader Glen Cauffman, manager of Penn State farm operations.
"It produces biogas used to fuel the engine of a generator to produce electricity," he said. "The stackable material digester can be fed by a variety of materials as feedstocks."
For many livestock operations that also have the capability of growing biomass crops, the stackable material digester is a good alternative for on-farm or regional production of biogas from manure and other sources, Cauffman explained.
-- "Pennsylvania Small Farm Environmental Stewardship Program: Implementing and Marketing Environmental Stewardship on Small Farms and Equine Operations," $363,424.
"The major goal of this project is to provide new farm owners and managers of small, high-density livestock and horse operations with the knowledge, skills and equipment necessary to implement pasture, nutrient and sediment management systems for their operations, and to use conservation principals as a marketing tool," said Ann Swinker, extension horse specialist, who will collaborate with Donna Foulk, extension educator in Northampton County, and Daniel Kniffen, extension beef specialist.
-- "Swine Manure Odor Reduction Using a Humic Amendment On-Farm Demonstration," $40,000.
"This project focuses on implementing the use of new technologies or approaches for removal of odors from confined animal operations and land-applied manure," said Robin Brandt, project co-leader and lecturer in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
"We'll work to determine practice effectiveness and develop cost data and standards for implementation," he said. "The project will demonstrate the efficacy of a commercial humic-material product for control of liquid swine manure odors at two 2,250-pig, tunnel ventilated, deep-pit finishing barns in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania."
Project co-leaders also include Eileen Wheeler, professor of agricultural engineering, Herschel Elliott, professor of agricultural engineering, and Robert Mikesell, senior instructor in dairy and animal science.
-- "Engine and Heating Fuel from Farm-Grown Crops," $27,728.
Collaborators on this grant are Douglas Schaufler, an engineer working in the farm operations unit at Penn State, Calvin Ernst, Crawford County farmer and proprietor of Ernst Conservation Seeds in Meadville, and Lloyd Byers, a farmer in Perry County.
The project is aimed at demonstrating to agricultural producers that oilseed crops are viable energy producers. Researchers will develop filtration systems to clean vegetable oil, one farmer will utilize home-grown oil to heat his home, and another will operate two tractors on farm-produced vegetable oil.
"Oilseed crops such as canola, camelina and sunflower have been raised successfully in Pennsylvania," Schaufler said. "Acceptance of these crops for fuel by farmers is slow, often because there are limited markets for the oil and for the meal that is produced when extracting the oil."
Oil from oilseed crops has not displaced petroleum-based fuels in on-farm energy uses in Pennsylvania, Schaufler noted. But now, with increasing fuel oil and diesel fuel costs, farm-grown energy crops are a tool that can help farmers add stability and control to these energy costs.
"Tractors have been successfully run for three years at Penn State on straight vegetable oil produced from canola grown in central Pennsylvania," he said. "Farmers are asking more questions, and some are interested in modifying some of their equipment to use straight vegetable oil that they extract from crops raised on the farm."