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Technology Bridges Gap Between Maryland's Farmers And Environmentalists

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In Maryland, a new solution to help ease the tension between the state's agricultural industry and environmental groups, which have long been at odds over what to do with the half million tons of poultry manure produced in the state each year, has been brought to the state Senate floor.

Farmers see poultry manure as a valuable resource: good to spread back onto their land as fertilizer. Environmentalists, on the other hand, say it's a major polluter and the phosphorous and nitrates it contains seeps into the local waterways and eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Recent proposals like the Phosphorous Management Tool have drawn criticism from those in the agricultural community, but yesterday a bill was was introduced in the Senate with bi-partisan support and the initial backing from a number of players in both the agricultural Industry and environmental groups.

The bill focuses on financially self-sustaining waste-to-energy cooperatives featuring anaerobic poultry bio-digesters. These digesters would not only capture the nutrients and turn the poultry manure into fertilizer, but they would also create a methane gas that could be used to power and heat the family farm. According to environmentalists, using more nutrients this would improve both water and soil quality.

"We're not shifting the debate, we are ending the debate with this technology. It makes those discussions obsolete," says Steven Bolgiano, the president of Planetfound, a privately run company that will break ground on the first poultry bio-digester in the state later this week.

The pilot plant in Pocomoke, Md. will be 26 killowatts, enough to handle 100 percent of the waste created at one family farm. But the bill outlines future plans for larger 260-kilowatt biogas coops that could handle up to ten farms apiece.

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