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Technoscience, anaerobic digester technology and the dairy industry: Factors influencing North Country New York dairy farmer views on alternative energy technology

Welsh, Rick, Grimberg, Stefan, Gillespie, Gilbert W., Swindal, Megan
Renewable agriculture and food systems 2010 v.25 no.2 pp. 170-180
dairy farming, dairy farm management, farmers, farmers' attitudes, anaerobic digesters, dairy manure, animal manure management, waste treatment, agricultural research, research support, concentration of production, intensive livestock farming, agricultural industry, equipment design, small-scale farming, issues and policy, New York
Structural change in the US dairy industry toward fewer and very large farms has fueled interest and government funding of research into the feasibility of constructing anaerobic digesters (ADs) on large operations as a waste management strategy. Some groups opposed to increasing scale and concentration in the livestock sectors, including dairy, also oppose ADs because of the connection with larger scale operations and the potential for facilitating increased concentration in agricultural production. But the connection between AD technology and large scale is a social construction promoted by its incorporation into the debates over agricultural industrialization. The technology per se is essentially scale neutral and its scale-implications are artifacts of design choices, as is seen by its successful application to both very small farms around the world and large-scale agricultural enterprises in the USA. Using a survey of dairy farmers in New York, we find that interest in AD technology occurs at all farm sizes; and that factors other than farm size are important in determining interest in the technology. We conclude that the technoscientific question raised by these findings is: will applications to, and interest by, smaller dairy farmer operators result in shifts in policy and funding priorities toward more diverse agricultural research agendas regarding AD technology?