While digesters could one day hold the economic key to capturing and transporting nutrients from a majority of livestock operations to fields far away from the home base, the financial numbers still don't add up. Until that basic dollars and cents metamorphosis occurs, it will be next to impossible for the EPA, USDA and the Department of Energy to reach its collective goal through its joint AgStar program to have 1,300 digesters on dairy farms by 2020.
A number of obstacles remain; chief among them is utilities' continued resistance to pay fair market value for gas and electricity from digesters. While green energy may be in vogue, those who support these well-intentioned causes haven't been willing to back those convictions with their wallet.

Aside from money, running these on-farm power generating plants has been no small undertaking. The most successful projects have involved outside vendors, full-time staff and, of course, grant money to even get them off the ground. Those community digester projects, although well-intentioned, face ongoing budget constraints that at times have resulted in partners waiting for payments.

The stark reality remains that the digester movement will struggle absent the sweetheart deal that corn received in the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate. Under that legislation, corn essentially received a guaranteed market when lawmakers mandated that 14 of the nation's 18.15 billion gallons of green fuel come from corn-based ethanol. Unless legislative and public support dictates energy from digesters as a national priority, the topic will merely garner lip service and make feel-good headlines because it will lack the cash to make it a reasonably profitable venture.

This editorial appears on page 252 of the April 10, 2015 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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