Whey Management for Agriculture
Dairy is big and growing in NYS. New York State leads the production of both cream cheese and recently, Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a $6 billion dollar industry nationwide, and New York generates 70% of the supply. A total of 695 million pounds of Greek yogurt was produced in New York in 2012.
Whey is a byproduct of making milk into cheese and yogurt.
DEC has been regulating land application of food processing waste, including whey, under the Part 360 solid waste regulations (link leaves DEC) for more than 20 years. Although production of yogurt and its by-product, whey, has increased in recent years, land application of food waste, including whey, is not new, and has not changed.
What is whey?
There are two types of whey: sweet and acid. Sweet whey is a byproduct of making cheese from milk; acid whey is a byproduct of making yogurt and cream cheese from milk.
Greek is thicker than traditional yogurt because most of the liquid is strained out during processing. The strained liquid is whey. The whey produced by Greek yogurt manufacturing is naturally acidic (low pH) through a natural fermentation process, the sugar is converted into lactic acid, no chemicals are added.
Why does whey have to be managed?
Although whey is a natural by-product of food production, in large quantities, it can pose a risk to the environment if not properly managed. DEC has regulations and permit conditions in place to manage whey for farmers who want to use whey as a fertilizer for crops or for animal feed.
Whey management options
There are several options for whey management:
- Feed for farm animals
- Land application to fertilize agricultural crops
- Treatment in an anaerobic digester (For more information, please visit EPA's website, http://www.epa.gov/agstar/anaerobic/), usually followed by land application to fertilize crops
- Treatment in a wastewater treatment plant
- Preparation of nutritional supplements for human or animal consumption, such as whey protein powder
How is whey managed in NYS?
DEC has collaborative partnerships with New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), New York's Land Grant University (Cornell University), and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYS Ag & Mkts) to holistically manage whey.
- NYSERDA provides grants to farmers and WWTPs to build anaerobic digesters to take whey, a whey management option, and also generates electricity.
- Cornell University's PRO-DAIRY Program uses DEC funding to research dairy and environmental issues, such as management of whey, and to provide education and outreach to the farm community.
- NYS Ag & Mkts trains and certifies planners through the Agricultural Environmental Management Program to prepare comprehensive nutrient management plans, which include field specific procedures for land applying whey, allowing farmers to comply with CAFO permit to protect water resources.
- DEC manages the CAFO permit program and the Part 360 solid waste regulations (link leaves DEC) to ensure that farmers follow procedures when land applying whey that are protective of water resources. Farmers are required to limit the amount of whey that is applied to match the nutrient needs of the crops and to use protective application practices. Farms not in the CAFO program are required to comply with the solid waste regulations.