Chicken litter is housed in a protected manure shed awaiting processing for fertilizer.

November 2, 2022
By Laura Wormuth

In a continued effort to meet aggressive statewide climate change goals and special nutrient reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has enlisted a team of University of Maryland researchers to evaluate its Animal Waste Technology Fund (AWTF). Researchers will embark on an interdisciplinary and holistic evaluation of technologies and trends in animal waste management in Maryland to provide recommendations back to MDA to inform future priorities.

The team, made up of faculty from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR), the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, and the University of Maryland Extension (UME), is led by Dr. Stephanie Lansing, professor and associate chair in AGNR’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology, who will create a comprehensive feasibility study of animal waste technologies in Maryland.

“Our goal is to create strategic information to guide the future AWTF awards,” said Lansing. Created in 2013, the MDA’s AWTF provides grants to those initiating the use of animal waste technologies, like composting, anaerobic digestion, or pyrolysis, according to the MDA website, in a way that reduces nutrients, provides alternative uses for waste, or produces energy or other marketable products. 

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“We’re going to evaluate the feasibility of different animal waste technologies and then evaluate their criteria for market trends, barriers to adoption, climate change, and environmental justice,” said Lansing. “We want to understand these technologies in the context of Maryland agriculture.”

MDA has granted $714,000 for a one-year Maryland Animal Waste Technology Assessment and Strategy Planning project encompassing three basic areas: a current conditions assessment, a trends assessment, and the emerging market assessment.

“We’ll start with the current conditions in Maryland, which is basically appraising the amount of different livestock we have in the state, how much manure they produce, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous content, and other animal waste associated with factories and processing plants,” Lansing said. “We’ll also look at what animal waste technologies we currently have in Maryland, what policies make them more-or-less feasible, and then look at environmental justice within the communities these technologies affect.”

While insular studies have been conducted on the various technologies employed across the U.S., it’s a new and innovative step back to consider the implications for widespread application, specifically for Maryland with the state’s unique environmental goals, Lansing said. 

“That’s why this trends assessment is so important – it puts this information into the context of our state,” said Lansing. “How do these technologies fit into the way we do business, how do they affect the communities around them, and how do they help address the issues Marylanders are concerned about, like climate change and the nutrient reduction goals of the Chesapeake Bay.”

With a thorough assessment of the factors affecting, and those affected by, the implementation of animal waste technologies, Lansing’s team will be equipped to provide the scientific contextualization for Maryland, as well as community and stakeholder input to the MDA. In turn, the MDA will be able to use that data and recommendations to prioritize how to use and allocate AWTF monies.

“We’re providing recommendations to the state that look at the viability in the agriculture industry and improving animal waste strategies, as well as recommendations for taking into account environmental justice when designing and sitting facilities. So this involves stakeholders, policymakers, farmers, business people who operate these systems, as well as the communities that might be affected,” said Lansing. 

“It’s a great example of the work we do between state agencies, researchers, community input, Extension, and how we bring all of these parts together. It shows the value of a Land Grant institution – we have these connections throughout our communities. It really highlights the value of our vast Extension network and how that’s combined with our extensive research network to put us in the position to do these types of statewide assessments and provide recommendations based on solid science,” Lansing said. “That’s what really makes an impact in our communities – using research and Extension to create new knowledge.”

To learn more about the MDA’s Animal Waste Technology Fund, go to