Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Manure digestion or indigestion?

Digester technology developed and evaluated at Washington State University. Photo courtesy of C. Kruger, with permission from the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.

Anaerobic digesters provide the technology to convert animal manure into methane, which can then be converted to electricity, and odor-reduced effluent, which can be used for fertilizer.

Anaerobic digesters are an expensive technology but have been made available in many areas through cooperative arrangements and public subsidies.

Digester manufacturers have defined a wide range of benefits. Reduced emission of greenhouse gases is one of the global public benefits of the digesters. Some potential also exists for using digested dairy fiber as a substitute for peat in horticultural operations, according to one study (C. Kruger et al. 2008. High-quality fiber and fertilizer as co-products from anaerobic digestion. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 63(1):12A-13A).

Because the resulting high nutrient concentrations, use of the digested influent as a fertilizer requires careful nutrient management to prevent nutrient overloading (also reported by Kruger et al. 2008).

Third-party evaluations to date have ranged widely—some supportive, some cautious, and some critical.

The combination of entities involved and impacted make this an interesting and important topic for discussion and debate. Do you have an experience with an anaerobic digester system in your area to share?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Opening the conservation conversation

Every association and publishing meeting these days seems to feature a session called “Web 2.0 or Die,” or something of the like. The fear factor can be overwhelming—if we don’t do anything we’ll die, but if we do do something we might make a huge mistake. After all, so many of the Web 2.0 technologies are new and constantly evolving, no one can be expected to know which ones will last and which ones won’t. Perhaps they will all change over in a matter of months or years. There is no guide map or play book. Mistakes are not only possible but required. Associations and society publishers cannot retreat to a tried-and-true way. A sure path simply doesn’t exist right now, and if it ever does it will only be visible through hindsight. But that’s what makes this time exciting and full of promise and opportunity.

As with many other professional/scientific membership organizations, the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s journal and annual conference have been core programs of the society since its beginnings. These activities are still extremely important and useful to the society’s members and the broader conservation community. And the conference and journal can be expected to always remain at the center of the society’s focus.

But these core programs on their own do not capture the full potential of services and benefits of interest to members and potential members. “New media” are rapidly emerging and nearly as rapidly being used. How can a professional membership society such as the Soil and Water Conservation Society benefit from the available technologies and how they are being used?

One of the mantras repeated in presentations on Web 2.0 is that organizations have to accept letting go of control. The age of the supreme importance of the organizational homepage is over. More and more people are learning about an organization and its activities through social networking sites, blogs, RSS feeds, etc.

The Soil and Water Conservation Society is currently investigating ways use these new media to provide additional services to its members and reach potential new members. This blog is a pilot in that effort.

It seems not only fitting but important to develop the Conservation Blogger concept in the open, in a “real” blogger setting, rather than behind closed doors in a planning meeting. After all, the success or failure of the blog will depend on the interest and engagement of individuals in their context and how they interact with it.

As a first kick, I propose the following concept for this blog: The objective is to engage people with a professional interest in natural resource management in a dialog about topics and developments they deem relevant. We need between 4 and 12 people to be co-bloggers. Not only do I not have enough time to be the only blogger (though I do volunteer to manage it), the blog will be more rich and useful if led by a panel of bloggers. These bloggers should represent the diversity of the Soil and Water Conservation Society as much as possible (for example, government, university, nonprofit, and private sector; scientist, practitioner, advocate, and policy maker; and representing a range of topic disciplines). Society membership would be a prerequisite to bloggership, but anyone would be welcome to read and comment on the blogs. We hope that Conservation Blogger will introduce some new people to the Soil and Water Conservation Society as well as enhance the experience of current members.

What do you think?