Caledon Looking to Green its Agriculture Sector: Biogas Potential

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Town of Caledon has put on their green thinking cap, looking at ways to green their agriculture sector, and biogas may be just what the doctor (farmer) ordered!

Biogas is fuel derived from the decay of organic matter – the organic materials are captured and processed through anaerobic digestion. The technology can play a major supportive role in agriculture, energy, and the environment, as it can bring new revenue to farms, support food processing, utilize waste, increase nutrient utilization, reduce pathogens, and reduce GHG emissions.

At the end of May, the Town of Caledon hosted a Community Agriculture Sector Meeting: Green Innovation and Renewable Energy Opportunities in the Agriculture Sector in Caledon. The meeting gathered feedback, information and ideas, and explored potential partnership opportunities to bring green innovation to the ag sector – specifically with a focus on biogas recovery opportunities, and increasing the understanding of the process for local farms. The following day saw a tour of an on-farm biogas facility at Clovermead Farms.

The meeting was a direct outcome of research and engagement activities undertaken by the Town in 2014 when the Town’s Community Working Group identified opportunities for advancing the implementation of Caledon’s 2011 Community Climate Change Action Plan.

Peel adopted a Climate Change Strategy in June 2011, and partners have been attempting to achieve six goals by implementing 38 actions outlined in the strategy. The plan recognizes farmers as early implementers of climate change adaptations, and the Community Working Group aims to assist by facilitating the sharing of ideas.

Speakers for the day included Christine Tu with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, who discussed an agricultural vulnerability assessment to climate change in Peel Region (an impact focus on crop productivity and yield). As expected, climate driver major threats identified included drought, extreme rainfall, extreme heat, and changes in seasonality.

Benjamin Strehler with CH Four Biogas, Gregory Gray with PlanET Biogas Solutions and John Hawkes with New Generation Biogas all had informative presentations on organic energy potential and next generation anaerobic digester systems.

Stephanie Thorson with the Biogas Association discussed the resources the association offers for farmers and municipalities, as well as the role the association plays as the collective voice of the biogas industry, affecting policy and research. The Biogas Association website offers a map of biogas installations in Ontario, providing some information for each one and also indicating which installations are looking for feedstocks.

Jake Debruyn with OMAFRA spoke about provincial initiatives related to anaerobic digestion, why farm-based biogas production can make sense in Ontario, the growth of biogas systems in agriculture over the last 10 years, and the Feed-In Tariff system. In late 2013, OMAFRA filed changes to the Nutrient Management Regulation allowing an increase from 25% to 50% of off-farm materials for anaerobic digestion. This change tips the scales for many farmers, making anaerobic digestion economically feasible. The University of Guelph has produced a biogas calculator that allows farmers to make economic decisions about biogas installations and anaerobic digestion of food waste.

Jake also discussed biomass crops, or biogas energy crops. In addition to miscanthus and switchgrass, which farmers have been working with for awhile in Ontario, establishment trials are being undertaken at the Simcoe Research station this year for cup plant – a perennial, native, pollinator-friendly and high yielding biogas crop. Cup plant has been under trial since 2008 in Germany and initial biogas yield tests at Ridgetown were very positive.

The GHFFA and GTA AAC were invited to the meeting, along with other local farmers, agricultural associations, NGOs, land trusts, local utilities and representatives from all levels of government agencies. Attendees shared challenges, lessons learned and success stories with other stakeholders that have been involved with biogas and other similar projects.

Be sure to learn more and view the presentations linked above.