WOOSTER, Ohio — A bill that would broaden the definition of agriculture in Ohio to include algal production and anaerobic digesters is making its way through the House and Senate.
House Bill 276 received unanimous support from the Senate Feb. 14, following unanimous support from the Senate Agriculture Committee Feb. 8. Before that, it was approved unanimously by the Ohio House of Representatives in December.
The bill defines the production of bio-energy from anaerobic digesters as “agriculture in nature” if at least 50 percent of the feedstock that was used to produce the fuel came from the same property. The new rule, if made law, would allow farmers to use anaerobic digesters as a part of a nutrient management plan, or to consume other agriculture organic byproducts.
State Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said bringing algal and anaerobic digestion operations under the definition of Ohio agriculture would extend farm-related tax breaks to such operations, including eligibility in the Current Agricultural Use Value program, and the new definition would simplify how that industry is regulated.
“It just provides another alternative for manure management because (digester-created energy) would be a renewable resource,” he said.
Gentile sponsored the bill, along with Republican Rep. Jim Buchy of Greenville. Gentile said the bill also is “aimed at putting some uniformity to the regulatory process” of digesters, so that regulations are the same across the state and easier to follow.
He expects good things from farm-related digesters, as they continue to produce electric and other forms of energy, while helping to manage large volumes of manure and potentially helping to control nutrient overloading in soil and water.
“It has been a pleasure working with Senator Gentile on this bipartisan bill,” Buchy said in a released statement. “There are components in this bill that will improve agriculture throughout the state of Ohio.”
Beth Vanderkooi, director of state policy for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill ensures farmers maintain their CAUV status, in addition to being able to operate some alternative energy technology.
“All we were trying to do was to clarify that if a farmer is utilizing certain energy technology … as long as they are doing that incidental or secondary to their farming operation, we just wanted to ensure that doing something like utilizing a methane digester or creating a few gallons of biodiesel did not cause a farmer to loose ag treatment for zoning purposes or CAUV,” she said.
The bill was amended in the Senate Agriculture Committee to include a 5 megawatt cap for energy output from an on-farm methane digester and an amendment that created a 17 member Anaerobic Digester Task Force that will decide what impact digesters in Ohio can have.
Gentile said the requirement that at least 50 percent of feedstock come from the farm helps ensure the units truly are for agriculture, and not just industry.
The bill is supported by Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“Energy is one of the highest costs of food production on Ohio’s farms, and we welcome any opportunity to address that issue through proactive legislation,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of Ohio Poultry Association. “That — and the recognition that many of the technologies advanced in this legislation are ones that our farmers are using or may employ in the future — is why Ohio’s egg and poultry farmers support the bill.”
The bill currently calls for digester task force members to include a representative from Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Soybean Association, an agronomist, a livestock representative, a digester representative, as well as ODA, Ohio EPA and ODNR.