They aren’t building them because they’re good at financial math.
“There’s a reason we don’t have many around,” said University of Manitoba bioengineering professor Nazim Cicek.
“If they made economic sense, believe me, farmers are very smart. They pick up technology quickly and they make it work, but our environment just isn’t very conducive at the moment.”
Manitoba hog farmers aren’t allowed to build new hog barns unless they feed their manure through biodigesters, which turn much of the material into gases.
However, only a couple of hog barns in the province are experimenting with some sort of digestion system, and the most advanced on-farm biodigester is on a dairy farm and still being commissioned.
Biodigesters are widely used in some jurisdictions, such as Wisconsin just south of the Manitoba border, and they are “a mature technology” in Europe.
However, Cicek said two main problems make biodigesters non-starters for most prairie farms: practical design challenges and economic realities.
The practical design concerns seem to be the less serious challenge. Biodigesters are expensive, but keeping them warm enough during harsh prairie winters can be done.
Building hog barns isn’t cheap if each farm needs to have its own dedicated digester. Cicek said some facilities in Wisconsin service a number of farms, and some of those farms can have 2,000 to 3,000 cows.