Tulelake Farm Advisor
University of California
Tulelake Farm Advisor

Innovating dairy digester research

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and cooperative extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine runs experiments in capturing biogas.

California leads the nation in agricultural production, producing nearly all the nation's leafy green vegetables, most nut and fruit varieties, and is ranked first in egg and dairy production.

What that means is that California also produces a lot of agricultural waste materials, including lots of manure.

Historically these waste materials have been used as a rich source of compost. However, researchers at UC Cooperative Extension are researching innovative uses for this material. 

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on better ways to manage waste material for both large and small farms. Dr. Pandey researches how to convert the organic matter in manure and other waste materials into a renewable energy source that can be used to power our state.

Converting manure to renewable energy

California gets over 27% of its energy from renewable resources like solar wind, and hydroelectric. Our goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030. California is taking steps towards this goal by building a network of dairy digesters which use bacteria to break down dairy manure and convert it into biogas. Clean burning fuels, such as biogas, are a sustainable source for generating energy because when they are burned, harmful by products are not produced.

Big bonus

A bonus is that the solid material left after the digesters have done their job is a fertilizer that can be used to grow the fruits, vegetables and nuts that our state is famous for. This type of fertilizer contains nutrients that are more readily available for plants because the digestion process breaks up organic materials more efficiently than traditional composting. The digestion process also helps reduce the number of harmful bacteria found in manure, making it much safer for use on plants grown for human food.

California leading in discovery and innovation

When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. People like Dr. Pandey are driving forward research and technology to minimize the impact of agriculture production on the environment. When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. His multidisciplinary approach to solving this complex problem of agricultural waste materials and water/air quality helps improve the economic wellbeing of farmers, and benefits Californians by providing nutrients for safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

While the importance of California's agriculture might be huge, its footprint on the environment doesn't have to be, and it is researchers like Dr. Pramod Pandey who are ensuring our state leads in discovery and innovation for many harvests to come.

Heather Johnson, Instructional Systems Designer, Gregory Wlasiuk, E-Learning Curriculum Designer, and Dr. Sara Garcia, Project Scientist, with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis, provided the script for the video which was used in this story. View Heather, Sara and Greg's filming and editing skills in the video below. Greg provides the narration. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 2:27 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Innovation


What about all the antibiotics that are used in raising livestock these days? They are expelled in the manures. Where do they go? I seek manures for my home compost from nearby horse keepers who do not use a constant flow of antibiotics in the animals.

Posted by christine anthony on October 31, 2019 at 1:20 PM

Hi Christine,  
Actually, we are doing research (ongoing) to see if anaerobic digestion processes reduce antibiotic residues. In general, these digesters are not designed to reduce antibiotic residues. The main goal is to capture biomethane.  
Thank you,  
Dr. Pramod Pandey  
Associate Specialist  
Population Health and Reproduction Department  
School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

Posted by Chris M Brunner on October 31, 2019 at 3:34 PM

Recent policy and regulatory changes in the United States have been implemented to promote the judicious use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. For more information, see the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Definition and Core Principles: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Antimicrobial-Stewardship-Definition-and-Core-Principles.aspx  
From a public health perspective, I would be more concerned about the presence of human pathogens such as Salmonella in horse manure. Proper composting will help eliminate the risk from harmful germs in animal manure, and make a better soil amendment than raw manure.  
Michele Jay-Russell, DVM, PhD, DACVPM  
Research Microbiologist & Manager  
Western Center for Food Safety  
Liaison, Western Institute for Food Safety and Security  
University of California, Davis

Posted by Chris M Brunner on November 1, 2019 at 11:43 AM

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