Six kilometres north, its distant rooftops hidden by the high tops of dry corn, lies Ledgecroft Farms, a 500-strong dairy operation. They're spreading manure on the fields here too - not that you would know it. There is not a hint in the air.
Two years ago, Ledgecroft Farms installed a biogas plant that generates methane gas from manure and off-farm source material, mainly fats, oils and greases (FOGs) from restaurant grease traps. Today it supplies enough electricity to the Hydro One grid to power 400 homes and provides heat to the farm and biogas system.
Not only does the process convert methane into electricity, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it also results in a residual digested material that is virtually odour- and pathogen-free that can be used as an organic soil amendment.
It is this digestate that is spread on the fields at Ledgecroft Farms, on the over 800 acres used to produce grains for its herd.
"We're spreading today and you can't smell it," says Glenn Green.
"It's just an amazing product. It sits in the digester for over 30 days at 38 degrees Celsius; it's like a big pasteurizer. Weed seeds and pathogens like E-coli have been significantly reduced. It just has a whole bunch of potential as far as heat and by-products.
"It has really created a lot of opportunities for the farm."
Glenn is the second generation on the farm that his parents, Ben and Laura, bought in 1973. But it was Glenn's father and sister, Jennifer, who were largely responsible for introducing the digester project.
"My father came up with the idea and my sister helped make it happen," explains Glenn. "She works in project management and when she realized that grants were available, she said, 'Now's the time'. If it weren't for both of them, this wouldn't have happened. The average farmer couldn't spend all day on the phone, in conference calls, trading e-mails and overcoming all the obstacles."
Today Jennifer is the executive director of the Agrienergy Producers' Association of Ontario (APAO), a not-for-profit, farm-based association formed in 2008 to promote the development of Ontario's agriculture-based renewable energy sector, particularly biogas.
Jennifer helped her family farm successfully apply for grants from the Ontario Biogas Systems Financial Assistance Program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), secure environmental approvals through the Ministry of the Environment and to obtain a contract under the Ontario Power Authority's feed-in tariff or FIT program.
The farm is now investigating a second FIT contract.
According to OMAFRA, a dairy herd of 100 cows produces enough manure to generate a continuous 25 to 30 kW. Adding 25 per cent good quality off-farm source material such as grease trap waste from restaurants can triple the electrical output.
"Manure is only 20 per cent of the generation," explains Glenn. "The potential of the gas we make comes from the FOGs and depends on whether it's 'good' waste from a restaurant. Some organic waste, that contains vegetable matter, has less potential."
Ledgecroft was one of the first farms in Ontario to sign on with Organic Resource Management Inc. (ORMI), an industry leader in the collection of liquid organic residuals from restaurants, grocery stores and food processing facilities. About three times a week, the ORMI tanker truck delivers a load of FOGs to Ledgecroft, where it is stored in one of two heated storage vessels. The farm also receives a tipping fee for the waste products. On its website, ORMI states its intent to enter long-term contracts and even equity partnerships with anaerobic digestion facilities in the belief that "in the future anaerobic digestion will be the most cost effective and environmentally beneficial organic waste recycling technology".
"It's a profitable project," admits Glenn. "The payback is good. It has created some cash flow to the farm."
At the same time, Green admits that there were times when he and his family wondered what they had gotten themselves into. Although the technology is widespread in Europe, it is relatively new in Canada. The farm contracted Plan-ET Biogas Solutions of St. Catharines, Ontario, to help it through the process, from the feasibility study through construction of a 500 kW biogas engine, a 1,500 cubic metre digester and a pasteurization system. Green's parents and sister also made a couple of trips to the parent company, PlanET Biogastechnik in Vreden, Germany.
There were also challenges in connecting with the grid and the Greens had to build a tap line from their farm to the closest three-phase line nearly three kilometres down the highway.
"It was definitely a learning experience," says Green. "It was difficult, just because it has rarely been done. There were so many specifications to meet with Hydro One. But we were not going to be denied. We knew this was a good fit for the farm."
It has also been a boon for the local economy and for the region as a whole. In October, SWITCH Kingston, a network of businesses, research and educational institutions and public and private sector participants dedicated to making southeastern Ontario the leading centre for sustainable energy, recognized Ledgecroft Farms at its first sustainable energy awards ceremony. Ledgecroft won the inaugural Rural Initiative Award for demonstrating the effective use and balance of natural resources in the pursuit and achievement of sustainable energy goals and exemplifying the SWITCH spirit of collaboration in sharing its knowledge with others in the community, welcoming tours and engaging in research projects with Queen's University. The most recent project, conducted by the University's Department of Chemical Engineering, examined the process, feasibility and marketability of creating liquid nitrogen from the digestate for the commercial organic fertilizer market.
"The last award ceremony I went to was for cow production," said Green in accepting the SWITCH award from Ed Bennet, president of the Frontenac Federation of Agriculture. "We're farmers first. Thank you for this award. Biogas has been a great success for us and a great addition to our farm."