Prototype geothermal system keeps turkeys comfortable during cold and hot weather

Posted: Dec. 20, 2012 10:41 pm Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 5:15 pm

While Americans heat up millions of turkeys in their ovens over the holidays, a geothermal energy system developed by a University of Missouri engineer will be keeping live turkeys comfortable.

In a prototype facility, environmentally and economically friendly geothermal energy is now keeping turkeys comfortable during both cold and hot weather. The geothermal system reduces utility costs for the farmer, which could bring down the price of turkey meat and keep America as the world's top turkey exporter, and using geothermal also improves the bird's air quality.

"This is the first application of geothermal energy in a commercial livestock operation," Yun-Sheng Xu said. "Our first set of performance data suggests that farmers could halve their heating and cooling costs. Other farmers could begin installing units on their turkey farms as soon as next year, for use next winter."

Heating and cooling is important in turkey operations because the temperature in their enclosure must be kept at 90 degrees while the birds are young but lowered to 70 degrees for older birds. Propane fuel for temperature control units can cost farmers tens of thousands of dollars per year. Propane burners in livestock barns produce humidity and carbon dioxide, which can smother the birds. Humidity in the bird barns moistens the foul waste from the fowl and leads to ammonia contamination of the air the birds breathe.

"Similar systems could be installed in other livestock operations," Xu said. "It may work even better in a chicken coop, since they use solid walls as opposed to the curtains used to enclose turkey barns. Pig and cattle rearing facilities could benefit from the inexpensive hot water produced using a geothermal system. The system even could be scaled down to keep a doghouse comfortable in the backyard."


Soy profits

Increasing protein and oil content of Illinois soybeans is one secret to enhancing farmer profitability and protecting market share from Brazil.

Representatives from ADM, Bunge and Cargill say customers buy soybeans based on protein and oil content, not bushels. Brazil is taking away market share because U.S. soybeans no longer supply the same standard quality levels.

"We used to guarantee our soybean meal had 48 percent protein but had to move our guarantee to 47.5 percent with discounts down to 46.5 percent because of inconsistent soybean quality which upset customers," said Jennifer Bareksten, protein export trade specialist for ADM. "Brazil guarantees 48 percent, so we are losing favor in the global market."

To deliver soybean meal with 48 percent protein, processors need to start with soybeans that have at least 35 percent protein at 13 percent moisture. Processors also want a minimum of 19 percent oil.

According to U.S. Soybean Export Council Soybean Quality Survey data, U.S. protein levels have been trending downward since the 1980s and fell below the 35-percent minimum about five years ago. The data show U.S. oil levels have remained under the standard 19-percent level the whole time.

"Brazil has produced soybeans with higher protein content than the U.S. for nine of the past 10 years, and they have a distinct advantage in oil," said Richard Galloway, United Soybean Board consultant focusing on soybean composition and value. "A bushel of Brazilian soybeans has about one more pound of oil and three more pounds of protein than a U.S. bushel."

Andres Martin, commercial crush manager at Bunge, said that Brazil soybeans average 20 percent oil and 36 percent protein and can trade at values more than 25 cents per bushel higher than lower quality U.S. soybeans. The quality difference between Brazil and the U.S., as well as the decline within the U.S., can be partially attributed to geography and weather. Soybeans grown closer to the equator have a natural tendency to produce more oil and protein.

Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar.