With surging electricity prices, intensive agricultural industries are looking for newer and smarter technologies to deploy on farm.
It’s a problem 2016 Nuffield scholar Ben Edser recognises well, given his role as a business development manager of an investment company that manages a broiler poultry enterprise, which produces about 10million broiler meat chickens each year in South Australia.
As part of the business’ sustainability initiatives, about 45000kg of poultry waste is processed and composted for use across a range of horticultural industries.
The company also has 700kw of solar power across the farm.
With support from AgriFutures Australia, Mr Edser undertook a Nuffield Scholarship to research whether poultry or other intensive livestock waste could be used as an alternative energy and revenue stream for farm businesses, and as a mechanism to reduce operational costs on farm.
‘‘Intensive agricultural industries have experienced escalating electricity and gas costs over the past 10 years, and for broiler poultry businesses, looking at renewables is going to be a key focus in the future as businesses strive for efficiency and lower production costs,’’ he said.
‘‘For most poultry businesses, around 75 per cent of their operating costs fall into four key areas — labour, electricity, gas and bedding.
‘‘If producers can tackle one or more of those areas, they can certainly gain a competitive edge.’’
Throughout his two-year study, Mr Edser travelled across the world — including to China, India, Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.
His final report looks at key renewable energy technologies, such as anaerobic digestion and solar, in intensive poultry production.
‘‘I was most interested in anaerobic digestion, which is a technology that can be used to recover energy from organic waste,’’ he said.
‘‘I discovered that feedstock with high chicken manure content was technically and operationally possible, and was successfully proven by two companies in Denmark and the United States.’’
In his final report Mr Edser explored opportunities to convert waste into energy, and the feasibility of tailoring how renewables such as solar can be used in the broiler poultry industry.
‘‘In my opinion, these greener energies not only offset costs, they have far reaching benefits for producers, the supply chain, policymakers, the wider community and the environment.’’