Throughout the country, many schools and communities are teaching the importance of environmental stewardship, energy conservation, and reducing waste through innovation and creativity. I came across one of these places recently at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, NC, the nation’s largest Historically Black College. Their School of Agriculture and Environmental Science has embraced the Obama Administration’s commitment to protecting the air we breathe, water quality, and land that supports and sustains us.
The President has taken unprecedented action to build the foundation for a clean energy economy, tackle the issue of climate change, and protect our environment. He stated that “As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs – but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment.”
As the Risk Management Agency’s Associate Administrator, representing USDA, I recently carried the message to A&T that we recognize and applaud the innovation and technology used on their research farm to safely and responsibly develop biofuels from animal waste solids, and for using that fuel to power vehicles used on the farm. On the university farm biofuels are used extensively as replacements or additives for gasoline or diesel, and the educational value it provides is proving to be beneficial to producers and end users alike, thus strengthening small farm communities.
As hog operations in North Carolina increase in size, so does the amount of waste and the need for innovative strategies for its disposal and treatment, particularly as water quality regulations improve. Additionally, with the state’s growing population, more people are living near swine operations which increases the level of concern about environmental issues like water pollution and odor.
In step with the Chancellor’s vision for an institution that is ‘outwardly engaged,” the university farm uses “constructed wetland cells” containing plant life such as cattails and bulrushes to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonium from swine wastewater, while water in the cells coverts nitrogen to nitrogen gas which is released harmlessly into the air. Before reaching the wetland cells, swine wastewater flows through two anaerobic lagoons. After treatment in the cells, wastewater is held in storage prior to land application. The water is then filtered to the point that it can be used for land application or for washing down swine parlors, the effluent can be applied back onto the fields, and the solids used for Biofuels, essentially completing the renewable cycle.
Wetlands remove excess nitrogen and other waste from the water through filtration, plant uptake, sedimentation and other biological processes. With soil and plant resources occurring naturally in the wetland environment, wetlands provide a natural buffer between waste and the valuable resource of clean water.
I was very impressed with the accomplishments at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, NC and applaud their efforts. With the considerable environmental challenges our country faces, it is encouraging to meet a talented group of people committed to doing something about it.