Farmers in the US midwest are turning to environmental engineering to help raise the efficiency of their agricultural operations.
While environmental engineering is usually associated with the mitigation of the damage caused by either natural disasters or the pollution generated by industrial operations, the discipline is engaging in increased collaboration with the agricultural sector to bring benefit to livestock and crop farms.
Cris Skonard, a senior engineer with Minnesota-based engineering firm Bollig Inc, has provided consulting services to hundreds of farms in the region over the past decade on a broad range of projects varying tremendously in scale.
A recent project saw Skonard help dairy company Beckman Farms both site and design the layout for an automated barn housing 120 cows.
Skonard was entrusted with evaluating and analysing the physical features of Beckman's property to determine the most advantageous position for the new facility.
The site selected was at a higher altitude, providing enhanced ventilation, and at a significant remove from wetlands, which would create concerns about a high water table. The location also served to maximise the potential for site expansion.
Following the selection of the site, Bollig established trees and other natural features to both protect the barn from inclement weather and stymie the spread of foul odours.
Bollig developed a surface drainage system to make sure that the driveway and working areas are kept in sound working condition, so that transportation vehicles have easy access to the barn.
The development of this system entailed the creation of computerised topographical maps of the property in order to ensure that water runoff didn't end up where it wasn't desired, as well as estimate and minimise the amount of earth that needed to be moved.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project was the design of the manure basin, due to the demanding nature of the installation and its potential impact on the health of the surrounding area.
Bollig tested the soil to a depth of 20 feet - five feet greater the initial proposed depth of the basin, to determine the suitability of the underlying earth for construction.
When they discovered that the soil wasn't suitable for the basin, the depth of the basin was reduced from 15 feet to 12 feet, while the width and length underwent a corresponding increase to compensate.
Another vital service provided by Bollig was the design of ancillary water channelling measures for the farm's feed pad. The pad houses large amounts of material which are deemed potential pollutants, and are prohibited by law from flowing into the watershed.
Skonard has developed a plan for the installation of multiple culverts which will channel water from the feed pad into a capacious reception pit, thus ensuring that the dairy farm satisfies local environmental regulations.