Mason Dixon Farms in third decade of making energy from manure

Staff Writer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Mason Dixon Farms straddles the Adams County, Pa., and Frederick County, Md., line and, for the past 30 years, the farm has used the manure from its dairy herd, to be energy self-sufficient by producing electricity from methane gas.
Owner, Richard Waybright, talks about the genesis of his use of methane.
“I built a liquid manure pit in 1950,” he said. “I noticed how it bubbled up in the summer and someone remarked to me that the same thing happened in gas wells. So I did a lot of reading and a lot of research.”
Then during the energy crisis of the late 1970s, Waybright got serious about methane, and with the aid of Roland Shaffer of Chicago, a biogas digester was built and installed on the farm in 1979.
“Our goal was to make the farm energy self-sufficient,” Waybright said.
From the collecting pits, the liquid manure is pumped into the digester. Hot water pipes use heat from the engines to maintain a temperature of 105 degrees F., to make the methane produce bacterial growth.
It has been a reliable source of energy now for 30 years and the farm has never been out of electricity for more than 15 minute periods during all that time, Waybright said.
“We are actually capturing one-eighth of the methane cows produce from urine and dung. We could have eight times that. Pound for pound, human beings make the same amount.”
The biogas is vacuumed off the top of the digester and put under two pounds of pressure to feed carburators.
Barns have automatic scrapers that collect urine and dung that is pumped into one of three digesters daily.
There are four and a half miles of piping with 10 center pivots that deliver the liquid to the fields in what Waybright calls his “fertigation” system. Very little additional fertilizer is required, saving money, and, he noted, pointing out a field of alfalfa, soil quality has been greatly improved.
A system of sprinklers that are lower to the ground are being used to hold down evaporation and odors. The farm also receives waste water from the nearby town of Emmitsburg, Md., and  applies it to their cropland. This gives them additional soil nutrients  and helps the town keep waste disposal costs down.
Mason-Dixon has abour 3,800 acres of crops and all are used as silage including alfalfa and corn, and barley grown as a cover crop.
Waybright and his family have been known to build their own industrial quality machinery as well. They use a harvester system they designed that has interchangeable parts, Crops are mowed with a rotating mower that cuts a 30 foot swath at 30 acres per hour. Crops are raked at 68 percent moisture just ahead of the harvester. The harvester has rubber tracks to eliminate ground compaction and pulls a chassis that holds a 30 ton container. The containers are filled by the harvester and then can be exchanged because of the torpedo hydraulic hookups that were developed at Mason Dixon Farms.
The system controls the hydraulics and the electric systems which includes the clearance lights, turn signals and stop lights, with a truck hauling an empty bin without either driver leaving his seat.
The trucks can unload 30 tons in less than three minutes. Harvested material is loaded into 13 horizontal concrete bin silos with a total capacity of 40,000 tons of storage.
Mason Dixon Farms has maintained a closed herd since 1978 to prevent the introduction of disease by live animals. There are usually about 2,200 Holstein cows in milk and they produce 84,000 quarts of milk per day. The rolling herd average is almost 25,000  pounds. There are also 2,000 heifers.
A building with a new concept of dry cow unit is now in the process of construction. The idea of the new dry cow unit is to minimize stress to increase production. Since cows live in groups with a boss cow, instead of separating the cows before calving, they will remain in their own pecking order instead of having to establish a new boss cow each time a new group is formed.
The seventh and eighth generation of Waybrights are now running the operation and the ninth generation is ready to follow. There are 53 employees in all, including family members. Most of the present buildings have been added since 1975 and were all built by in-house employees.
“That keeps everyone employed year ‘round,” Waybright said. “The farm is a living lab kept profitable through efficiency and innovation. Change is inevitable. We try to keep up with the new technology and use it to our benefit. None of this is possible without the teamwork and cooperation of the family and all the employees, past and present. We all participate in think tanks and make decisions that will work. The younger generation is encouraged to work someplace else after their education, and then to come back if they wish and be responsible for some area that they want to work in.”