New project energizes dairy waste treatment

Area farms expect to benefit from state-supported program.

February 10, 2010 

Editor's note: Lima Farms is located in Merced. A previous version of this story gave the wrong location.

State support of a new methane digesting project could help three Central Valley dairy farms more efficiently treat their waste.

Officials from the California Department of Agriculture, the Merced Irrigation District, a West Sacramento-based environmental engineering company and representatives of three dairies met Tuesday at the World Ag Expo in Tulare to sign an agreement to pursue digester pilot projects at each of the dairies.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped by to express his support for the project after the signing.

The dairies -- Joseph Gallo Farms of Atwater, Hillcrest Dairy Farms in Le Grand and Lima Farms in Merced -- could house a new digesting system designed to comprehensively treat dairy waste by turning it into fertilizer, treated water or renewable energy.

The new system, created by ProTechGCS, Inc., includes a treatment plant using various types of digesters, algae ponds and other means to turn the waste into energy.

Natalie Friton, a spokeswoman for ProTechGCS, said financing for each of the pilot projects hasn't been finished, but it probably will include private investors because the treatment plants will generate revenue over time for the farms.

Peter Gallo said Joseph Gallo Farms already uses a methane digester on its Atwater property. He added they would use the new system on a nearby dairy farm to process more waste and possibly provide more energy for its cheese-making plant.

Gallo said the methane digesting system proposed by ProTechGCS uses innovative technology that could produce cleaner water, be more efficient and provide even more energy than current digesting systems.

Gallo said the farm has struggled with both financial and regulatory issues over installing a second digester on its property.

"We are very optimistic that with Gov. Schwarzenegger and (California Department of Food and Agriculture) Secretary (A.G.) Kawamura that this project will become a reality in the short term."

Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2435 or