West Marin ranch gets grant to reduce greenhouse gas

2018-02-13 | Marin Independent Journal

Feb. 13--An organic dairy farm in Nicasio is changing its manure management practice in a step toward reducing greenhouse gases thanks to a $744,000 state grant.

The grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture will fuel a project at the Lafranchi Ranch to build a dry scrape manure management system, rather than a flush system, to collect livestock manures that are processed into compost.

Lafranchi Ranch is 1,150 acres with more than 400 dairy cows and 3,000 free range chickens. The ranch is was one of 17 projects awarded statewide. The grant was announced Monday.

With the flush system, the water leeches all of the nutrients out of the manure and washes it into nearby creeks. And methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is released into the air.

"Now all of those nutrients will be going into our compost and not into the air creating greenhouse gases," said Kevin Lunny, owner of West Marin Compost and former owner of the now defunct Drakes Bay Oyster Co. "It creates a much better compost."

The West Marin Compost operation uses the manure collected from the dairy to process a variety of mulches and soils. It gets its green waste from landscapers, tree service crews and other locals, and it also collects local equestrian waste.

A dropoff site to dump green waste is at 5575 Nicasio Valley Road. The compost is processed at the Lafranchi Ranch up the road.

West Marin Compost is a private-public operation that stemmed from a coalition formed in 1998 that saw that there was a need to alleviate the dairy waste, equestrian waste and green waste in the West Marin community. The business is privately owned and operated, but was jump-started with the help of the Marin County Conservation District, the county Board of Supervisors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's a success story about the community coming together and creating what's needed for the community," Lunny said.

It is about a $500,000 annual business with three full-time employees producing about 20,000 cubic yards of compost yearly. Each year, "we've been in the red," Lunny said, as the business is struggling to break even.

But he said when West Marin Compost opened for business in 2005, it was on the promise that the business would be viable, and that it could self-sustain as a private entity.

Lunny said the business would have to make about $50,000 annually more to be in a comfortable position.

To do that, tipping fees for chipped green waste have increased from $5 per cubic yard to $20. The price changed about three weeks ago after the operators realized that chipped wood is a condensed material and they've been undercharging.

Nancy Scolari, executive director of the Marin Resources Conservation District, said that without the compost site, all of the dairy ranchers, horse boarders and other livestock and green waste producers would have to either have to internally compost or haul their waste to landfills.

"I hate to imagine that," she said. "West Marin Compost contributes to the overall watershed health in Marin County."

Lagunitas resident Gina Smith is a customer of West Marin Compost, and her husband Jeff, owner of Evergreen Tree Service, takes cut trees and trimmings to the dropoff site.

"They make really beautiful compost," Gina Smith said. "It just feels clean, like we're closing the loop."

Will Bakx, owner and manager of the Sonoma Compost, has been working with Lunny and Lafranchi Ranch as a consultant and helped apply for the grant. He hopes that the construction of the dry-scrape system will be completed by fall 2019.

At that time, the ranchers hope to be much more efficient, said Randy Lafranchi, a partner and manager of the Lafranchi Ranch.

"Mainly it's going to benefit the environment," he said.

The funds come from the Alternative Manure Management Program and are administered through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said, "The Lafranchis deserve recognition for their technological innovations in ranching and farming. Their project highlights their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the agricultural sector's practices."

The Alternative Manure Management Program aims to reduce methane emissions and limit the effects of climate change. The program provides financial incentives to implement such practices.