Livestock Water Recycling System for McCormick Farms, stands by some of the components of the system. Photo by Contributed photo
McCormick Farms is a 2,000-cow dairy and the largest potato grower out of New York State. Because handling manure is a constant challenge, owner Jim McCormick always seemed to be on the lookout for new solutions.
“This farm produces 25 million gallons of manure a year [that includes 200+ inches of precipitation a year] and the CAFO regulations are strict,” says Nate Hartway, the farm’s financial and environmental compliance manager. “We were looking at systems that could produce clean water from manure, and in the summer of 2014 we traveled to a Michigan farm to see a system in operation.”
McCormick and Hartway were impressed with the Michigan operation and, when they returned home, an LWR (Livestock Water Recycling) system was purchased. The system can extract up to 70 percent of the water out of the manure, or digestate liquids, while leaving the nutrients in a segregated, concentrated form. For McCormick Farms, it meant the operation would have more control over their waste nutrients and more options for spreading.
Building gets underway
The McCormick Farm manages 8,000 acres, spread out over five different counties, with the dairy located in Wyoming County. It’s there that they installed the LWR system. Building began January with the construction of a 100-foot x 50-foot barn and the altering of the underground piping to be able deliver three different end products to three separate lagoons.
“It wasn’t a huge project,” Hartway says. “The LWR system came on skid steers and we had a couple guys in there putting the pieces together. We also worked closely with local contractors, Maple Grove, who came in and helped with the installation including scaffolding and they did all the stainless steel work.”
How it works
Within about two months, construction was complete and operation began in April.
“We run our manure through a sand lane and the sand drops out,” Hartway explains. “Next, it goes through a full screen separator where the larger solids drop out. And then it goes into what we call a homogenized pond.”
After the manure is pumped up to the LWR building, raw manure is basically separated into three separate components.
“The first component (about 10 to 15 percent) is a semi-solid material that contains 100 percent of our phosphorous, the vast majority of our organic end – slow-release nitrogen,” Hartway says.
The second component (between 20 to 25 percent) is a concentrated liquid nitrogen product.
“It contains all of our ammonium – all of our quick-release N as I call it – as well as all of our potassium,” Hartway adds.
The third component (around 60 percent) is clean water – pure enough to drink.
Each of these different elements is pumped out to three separate ponds, which already existed at the farm. The semi-solid component goes to a two million gallon lagoon, the liquid nitrogen product is pumped to a five million gallon lagoon and the clean water goes to a one million gallon lagoon and also out to a nine million gallon satellite lagoon a mile away, which is also tied to the irrigation system.
Making the most of clean water
The clean water, of course, is the unique aspect of this system. And although it’s clean enough to drink, that’s not what it will be used for at the farm. The vast majority will be run straight through the farm’s irrigation system. The other portion will be used to flush the barns, which they do three times a day.
The system provides multiple benefits for McCormick Farms. For starters, it means less manure trucks on the road and lower operation costs as fewer spreaders, manure pumps and tanks will be needed. This won’t, however, eliminate the trucks, tankers and pumps.
“We will continue to spread with a [Nuhn 8500] tank spreader,” Hartway says. “Sometimes we direct spread from the manure trucks, sometimes we spread with a manure tanker. Sometimes we’re injecting. Right now we’re spreading dry products with a Knight side spreader.”
Although McCormick Farms spreads year round, it’s primarily done in spring and fall.
“We do spread in the winter as we’re able to,” Hartway says. “Spreading is a big challenge in this area because the CAFO requirements require us to catch all the rain runoff from any barnyards and bunk areas, so we catch huge amounts of rain fall in an area. And we average 45 inches of rain annually.”
Better use of nutrients
Hartway says another benefit of this system is the separation of nutrients. There are currently fields that are limited to how much can by spread due to high phosphorous levels. But with this LWR system they can stay in compliance with the regulations because they can spread a product on those particular fields that’s still nitrogen rich, but has no phosphorous.
“And the fields high in phosphorous are, of course, close to the dairy, because they have a long manure history,” Hartway says. “Now we’ll be able to fine tune our agronomy on our spreading and allow us to plan better. In our case we will also have better sand separation, better solid separation as well through the whole separator screen.”
This system is still new and they will continue to see more efficiency. For example, the farm’s sand separation will improve as the lagoon gets cleaner. Clean water from the LRW system is now going daily into the lagoon that’s used for flush water. That clean water is mixing with the thick material that was already there. Over time the flush water will becomes clean and sand separation will become more efficient.
It takes time
One of the challenges with this system has been the “fine tuning,” which was expected.
“One challenge has been getting the phosphorous product dry enough,” Hartway says. “We’re playing around with a couple ideas of false bottom floors and things to get that to continue to drain.”
And the system isn’t just switching switches. It takes some training.
“A coagulant and a flocculate are injected into the raw manure that pulls the P and the dissolved solids out of suspension, to create that dry, phosphorous product. And getting that chemical concoction correct can be a challenge,” Hartway explains.
This chemical concoction not only differs from farm to farm, it can differ from day to day based on the dissolved solids in the manure. And the dissolved solids can fluctuate quite a bit if there has been a heavy rainfall. Fluxuation will also continue while the manure water becomes cleaner and cleaner.
To run the system, McCormick hired a person with experience operating a water treatment plant in one of the local municipalities.
“He had a background in pumps and water treatment among other things,” Hartway says. “He was a good find for us.”
100,000 gallon goal
Right now, the farm is treating between 70 to 80,000 gallons a day, and they are working up to 100,000, which is the number of gallons they use to flush each day.
“We’re not quite fully up-to-speed yet, but we’re steadily getting there,” Hartway says.
When everything is working optimally, the system will definitely help with the commercial fertilizer costs.
“Every field needs a certain amount of P and a certain amount of nitrogen and K and we’ll be able to fine tune that now that we’ve got them separated,” Hartway says. “So, fields that are lower in phosphorous will get the phosphorous and organic material. Fields that are higher in phosphorous will get the stabilized nitrogen, which won’t be subject to the volatization that you have with spreading. Our rates will now be curtailed to crop needs.”
The LWR system also cuts down on smells, although that’s not necessarily an issue for the McCormick farm in its rural location.
“The phosphorous material and concentrated liquid have a little bit of a smell to it, but the water is devoid of any smell. You can’t smell anything.”
Although this system is still a ways from performing at its optimum – it will continue to become more efficient as water becomes cleaner and chemistry is further adjusted – it has generated interest.
“We actually had a tour day here June 30th. So several of the neighbors and the bigger guys who have more of the manure problems seem to be very interested in it.”
Hartway says this system isn’t for everyone, and it’s better suited for a larger farm that can make the economics of it work.
“I also think it works very well for a sand-bedded dairy in particular. And it’s a good solution if your farm is in a state with pretty strict CAFO regulations like New York, because it allows you to manage your manure in a much better fashion.”
Hartway says its even stricter regulations down the road that helped them make the decision to go with LWR.
“There’s talk about changes coming down the road, like possibly eliminating winter spreading, and other things. This set us up to be in a position to be a step ahead.”