Dairy Farmers Produce Organic Fertilizer

April 15, 2005

BEFORE he discovered its true value,dairy farmer Luis Ángel Alfaro used to tossout his cow dung. Now, the owner of FincaSucre, in San Carlos, in the Northern Zone,has realized it can not only help him reduceproduction costs, but give him healthiercows and help the environment.Alfaro’s farm is one of five chosen in2002 for a two-year pilot project proponentshope will revolutionize Costa Ricandairy farms.The project, financed with ¢16 million($34,000) from the Ministry of Science andTechnology’s special fund program, aimedto introduce the concept of the use and productionof organic fertilizer to more than500 dairy farms throughout the country.MAKING the fertilizer involves collectingthe cow dung and inserting what isknown as the California earthworm intothe waste. The worm, known for its fastreproductive rate and commonly used forcomposting, processes the dung andexcretes it as organic fertilizer, explainedCarlos Ramírez, an agronomy professorand researcher for the Technology Instituteof Costa Rica (ITCR), which participatedin the project.According to the Ministry of Scienceand Technology, a dairy farm with 144cows in San Carlos can produce approximately80 sacks of organic fertilizer permonth, which can reduce the farm’s use ofchemical fertilizer on its pastures by 25%.Additionally, some farmers make abusiness of selling organic fertilizer, whichranges from ¢1,500-2,500 ($3-5) per sack,according to dairy farmer Alfaro.ASIDE from cows producing higher-qualitymilk when grazing on fields fertilizedwith organic rather than chemicalproducts, a series of environmental benefitsresult from the production of organicfertilizer, according to Ramírez.“Many dairy farms dump their solidwaste into rivers; some of them are evenstrategically built next to them to use itfor this purpose,” he said. “By collectingand processing cow dung to use it as fertilizer,dairy farmers can eliminate thisform of contamination.”Ramírez said the production of organicfertilizer also saves water.Alfaro agreed.“I used to hose down the cow’s corralsto wash off their waste. With this method,you simply wait until it dries and collect itto reuse it. I’ve cut back on wasting roughly7,000 liters of water monthly,” Alfarotold The Tico Times.However, for Alfaro, the greatest benefitof using organic fertilizer on his 70-cowfarm is economic.“THE project was developed as analternative to stop polluting the environment.But for us farmers, the greatest benefitsurely lies in reducing the amount ofchemical fertilizer we buy. It increases ourmargin of profits enormously,” he said.For two years, professor Ramírezworked on the project alongside otherexperts from the Technology Institute,under the guidance of coordinator WilfridoPaniagua, from the same institution. Theyvisited five model farms in San Carlos andSarapiquí, in the northwestern plains,approximately two or three times a weekuntil the project’s completion in 2004.The five farms were chosen from themore than 500 member farms ofCoopelecheros R.L. labor union becausethey exhibited optimal, varied conditionsin terms of climate and management, torepresent conditions in other farms acrossthe country, Ramírez explained.“In cold regions, animals tend to producemore liquid waste. Dairy farms inthese areas need to invest in equipment toprocess this type of waste, which farms inwarmer regions do not require,” said AidaArce, General Manager of CoopelecherosR.L., a union of farmers that sell their milkexclusively to the giant Dos Pinos dairycooperative.DOS Pinos General Manager JorgePattoni said the milk produced by cowsfeeding on organically fertilized fields is“an important partial step on the way to theproduction of organic milk” – somethinghe expects Dos Pinos to be producing withinthe next two years.“It is important to distinguish betweenthe milk produced by cows that feed onfields that are organically fertilized andorganic milk,” Pattoni said.“The normative to produce organicmilk is very complex. Organic products areexpanding quickly throughout the world,and they suit our country’s ecologicalimage very well,” he added.For the time being, the milk producedby dairy farmers like Alfaro can be considered“environmentally friendly.”

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