North Carolina has long been a major pork-producing state, with the industry providing well over 50,000 full-time direct and indirect jobs. However, being the second largest pork-producing state in the U.S. means that North Carolina must contend with mind-bending amounts of swine manure and associated ammonia. The 2.3-plus million pigs housed in more than 2,000 facilities produce so much waste that the state government has mandated the conversion of manure
That means biodigesters. But which digester designs might be best to address the situation? Shlomi Palas believes he has found the best technology to handle North Carolina’s serious swine manure problem.
“There have been some biogas plant designs tried by other parties in this state, but we believe we have found the right solution,” says Palas, CEO of Charlotte, NC-based Blue Sphere Corporation.
Blue Sphere has operated for more than two decades and has facilities in several countries, including Italy, the UK, and now Holland and the U.S. The firm oversees entire waste-to-energy facilities, choosing appropriate technologies from well-established contractors and arranging to generate and sell electricity, scrubbed biogas, organic fertilizer, compost and other valuable products.
Electricity production at Blue Sphere’s $20-million, 3.2-MW food waste biogas facility in Johnston, RI, will be connected to the grid in that state by March. Its $27-million, 5.2-MW food waste facility in Charlotte began supplying electricity to Duke Energy in mid-November 2016, with full commissioning and feedstock ramp-up occurring over the next few months.
After almost two years of researching the most suitable technologies for hog manure, Blue Sphere feels it has succeeded in finding the best, most-efficient systems for its two new digester facilities under development in North Carolina.
Palas says they are confident in the chosen vendors for several important reasons.
“The technology providers have long-proven experience and track records of many installations in swine manure processing, and their technologies are working 100 percent,” he reports. “While American hog manure has a little more liquid than European hog manure, the combination of the U.S. and Europe technologies will have the appropriate adaptations to be successful with us here, and the companies involve have also provided us with financial assurances.”
European hog manure has about two to three percent solids, but due to feeding regime differences, American hog manure contains one to 1.5 percent solids.
Removal of liquid from the hog manure will be done onsite at individual farms using a combination of technologies. Again, Palas says these sorts of separation system are new to North America, but are working well in Europe and have been successfully tailored for U.S. swine manure.
“Transporting liquid is very costly, so the need to pre-treat on site is critical,” he notes. “We bring the manure dry matter up to 20 to 30 percent and then transport it to the digester.”
Once fully operational, the new NC facilities will produce an annual revenue of about $10 million [estimated] from renewable energy. However, while the biogas from both the Charlotte and Rhode Island projects is being used to generate electricity, Palas foresees a significant shift coming and so the hog manure biogas may be used differently.
“There is a change going on in the gas market, from electricity production to production of bio-methane, compressed natural gas and liquefied biogas for vehicles,” he says. “The engines that use this gas are already well-developed and already many Fortune 500 countries use trucks and cars that run on this fuel.”
Blue Sphere is developing other sites in North Carolina and worldwide, and Palas attributes his firm’s success to many factors, chief among them is an ‘agnosticism’ to digester technologies.
“The biggest mistake that other firms have made, and are still making, is that they get stuck with specific systems,” he explains. “We are open to using tech from Italy, Canada, Germany, China, Japan, United States and other parts of the world to find the best fit for the feedstock we have. We focus on the waste first. We actually have a dedicated staff member to find and keep up with technologies from all over the world. But no matter the technology, the systems must be bankable and well-established so that we can obtain funding and build a project successfully. We cannot work with startup technology.”
Having said that, Blue Sphere cannot handle North Carolina’s colossal swine manure problem alone, and the company is strongly encouraging other renewable energy players to participate.
“The process begins with permits, site selection, establishing a market for the gas and so on, and that can take over a year,” Palas explains. “Construction can take another 12 to 18 months. We have every intention of being a primary player, but due to the timelines involved, we cannot do it alone, and we are inviting others to get involved in this serious challenge. Hog manure is a huge market.
“We are starting with these two food waste digester projects and will make sure they are running well,” he adds. “Once we have proved our solution is workable, we’ll know we have a winner and then we can go across the country.”
In January, Blue Sphere also held some meetings in Canada, so stay tuned for developments north of the border as well.
For Eric TeVelde, owner of Open Sky Ranch Dairy near Riverdale, Calif., the business case to purchase a deeply discounted, mothballed, but structurally sound anaerobic digester on his newly-acquired farm was just too good to ignore.
TeVelde, who purchased the Central Valley dairy in 2012, now operates five, free-stall milking barns on the farm with about 4,500 milk cows. They have an additional 4,500 dry cows and replacement cattle in what is one of the largest dairy farms in Fresno County. TeVelde and his family had been dairy farming in the Central Valley for generations.
The dairy operates a closed flush manure management system where barns are flushed clean with water two to three times a day. This generates about 30 million gallons of liquid manure annually. The manure and waste water mix is transported through a storage and piping system, eventually being pumped into one of several nearby lagoons, which all told have a holding capacity of about 100 million gallons.
The dairy farms about 1,500 acres, primarily growing feed for their cows. Prior to the restart of the anaerobic digester, the raw manure was processed through a US Farm Systems-brand solid separator, with the liquid manure continuing on to the lagoons and the solids reused as bedding. TeVelde says the liquid manure was sold or land applied on the dairy’s cropland as organic fertilizer.
It is this approach to manure management that concerned state legislators because of the amount of methane released by storing the raw liquid manure. By treating the manure through an anaerobic digester prior to land application, this removes the methane while retaining all of the other beneficial nutrients, which is why the state is financially supporting this approach to manure management to help reach its methane emissions reduction target. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that methane emissions have 25 times greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
The decommissioned anaerobic digester and the accompanying biogas management technology that TeVelde purchased was situated on the Open Sky Ranch Dairy property. After talking to other dairy farmers who had installed anaerobic digesters and working with California-based biogas power developer, Maas Energy Works (MEW), TeVelde recognized the potential of refurbishing the facility and using the biogas for power production. He decided to purchase the installation in 2015.
In California, an anaerobic digester is often a lined, underground, covered lagoon where biologically-rich waste material – like liquid manure – is collected and retained over a specified time period. The microbes within the manure in the oxygen-free environment generate methane, which can be captured, scrubbed, and used as fuel, with the liquid and solid by-products still available for organic fertilizer or cow bedding.
California, the largest milk-producing state in the U.S., announced last November that it wants its dairies and other livestock operations to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. The regulations currently in development will take effect in 2024.
TeVelde says his purchase of the digester was not in response to this specific regulation, but he definitely was anticipating that the dairy industry was on legislators’ radar.
A state grant to cover nearly half the $2 million cost of redesigning and refurbishing Open Sky’s digester helped to sweeten the deal. It was a $973,000 matching grant under the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program. In July 2015, the department distributed grants totaling $11.1 million to five dairy digester projects from the program.
What gave TeVelde further assurance that his biogas recovery and power generation system would succeed where the previous owner had failed was working with Maas Energy Works. MEW already had nine biogas recovery and power generation systems working on dairies throughout the western U.S. Once they sat down and crunched the numbers, TeVelde could see the business sense in purchasing the digester and pursuing the redesign project, with the government grant support.
The biogas recovery and power generation system designed and built by MEW and owned by the dairy came on line last August. The dairy looks after day-to-day operations, with ongoing and contracted monitoring by MEW.
“What the dairy has contracted with us to do is that we monitor the equipment 24/7 and control the equipment from our control centre in our office,” says Daryl Maas, owner of MEW. “We do all the parts ordering, calibration of the equipment and all the maintenance check list.”
TeVelde says he and a hired contractor look after what needs to be done to maintain the digester and power generating system, with direction provided by MEW. The contractor looks after such details as regular oil changes on the engine powering the generator and any other maintenance requirements.
“The maintenance list provided by Maas Energy is not very extensive, and if I miss one day, it’s not the end of the world,” says TeVelde. “I just want to make sure everything is working properly.”
So far, he has found the system manageable and functioning as advertised, and is anxious to see how well it performs over the next five to 10 years.
He says the power generated by the 800 kilowatt (kW) system replaces all of the dairy’s power consumption, and estimates that with saving of about $500,000 per year, the system should pay for itself within five years.
In fact, the system is generating more biogas than the current power generator can consume. California restricts power generation from a single generator to offset the dairy’s own power bill and using the same system to sell excess production. So the dairy is seriously considering installation of a second power generator, using the excess biogas currently being flared to produce power to sell to the grid.
Restarting the digester has not caused a major disruption in manure flow at the dairy. Maas says the company’s goal is to take a plug-in approach to work within the existing manure management system.
He describes the Open Sky Ranch Dairy redesign and refurbishing project as unusual, because the biogas produced by the previous system owner was not used as fuel for power production. The goal of the old system was to capture the biogas, scrub it, and then sell it as a commodity through existing natural gas transmission lines. However, the owner had difficulty cleaning the biogas economically so it met utility grade specifications. Given the current low price for natural gas, this led to the project’s ultimate failure. Maas agreed that given current natural gas prices, using the biogas as fuel in power generation makes more business sense for most dairies.
“Although the State of California wants more of those projects, and were working very hard to try to build those projects, that’s a hard lift,” says Maas.
“That’s a complicated business model, so most people do electricity,” Maas adds.
One further incentive for Open Sky Ranch Dairy to voluntarily pursue the project prior to any regulations requiring methane reduction from the dairy is that the dairy is eligible to sell greenhouse gas offset credits, also known as carbon credits, to help pay for the project. As part of its service, MEW conducts all the paperwork for the verification of the carbon credits generated by the facility.
Upon inspection, Maas says the digester portion of the mothballed installation was in, “pretty good shape. It was built to all the latest water board requirements here in California. It just needed some repairs and redesign.”
This was a huge advantage for TeVelde because construction of the anaerobic digester is by far the most expensive part of any biogas recovery system. The major expense of the project was to remove the old biogas recovery, treatment and transmission hardware down to the concrete foundation, and then install all the new hardware needed to clean the biogas, power the generator, and monitor the overall system.
The project required the installation of blowers to circulate the biogas in the digester, an iron sponge scrubber to remove sulfur from the biogas, a building to house equipment, electrical switch gear to connect the generator to the power grid, and the 800 kW Dresser Rand Guasor engine and generator.
The digester is a continuous flow model with a retention of about 40 days. The raw liquid manure is processed through the solids separator, then through the digester, with the liquid byproduct continuing on to the storage lagoons. It is land applied as fertilizer in the spring and summer.
“The manure system hasn’t changed much,” says Maas. “The main thing is that we are getting energy out of the manure now and stabilizing it somewhat. All the existing (manure management) structures have remained in place. We have just added one more step in the process . . . Also, we take out the carbon and the hydrogen for fuel, but we leave in the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all the things that the soil wants.”
According to my youngest child, he’s just too darn healthy.
It’s 102 Fahrenheit at Bateman’s Mosida Farms in Elberta, Utah, 60 miles outside Salt Lake City. The heat is taking its toll on the dairy cows. Fans and soaker hoses run. But the heat is also taking a toll on the farmers and the community as the conflict over water usage grows.
The Batemans don’t take the water issue lightly. They continue to improve their processes, work hard to create a sustainable farm, and continually educate people about what it takes today to be a food source. Their hard work is one of the reasons they received an Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability award from the Innovation Center for the U.S. Dairy.
Judges evaluated the nominees’ sustainability practices based on their economic, environmental, and community impact. The independent judging panel – including experts working with and throughout the dairy community – also looked for learning, innovation, improvement, scalability, and repeatability.
The Bateman family has grown their farm into one of the largest dairies in the state with 7,000 milking cows. Along with their father, Wayne Bateman, the four Bateman brothers – Jason, Steve, Brad and Lance – currently own and operate the farm.
In addition to the dairy, the brothers also farm 3,000 acres and raise all their own heifers.
Jason Bateman says his grandfather started the dairy a number of years ago in West Jordon. After his grandfather retired in 1972, his dad, Wayne, moved the dairy to its current location. That year they were milking around 250 to 300 cows and have steadily grown.
Today, the fourth generation is coming on board, but only if the farm remains both profitable and sustainable.
Mosida Farms is a freestall dairy and uses sand for bedding. Jason says the farm is moving from a scrape to a flush system. The flush system will allow them to both better recycle both water and create cleaner sand.
Since around 2008, Batemans have been using a gravity sand sidewalk system. They created it themselves after seeing one in California that they liked because of the low maintenance.
“It has four-foot sides and is 540 feet long,” explains Jason. “The manure comes in at one end about two-thirds up, hits a wall, angles and heads down on a slope. There are two cells so that we can get the sand to fall. We take [the sand] out of our sand cells up to the drying yards, which are sloped with southern exposure.
“We put the sand in windrows,” he adds. “And then we bake it and turn it, and bake it and turn it. It dries the sand, and kills the bacteria. Once the moisture is gone, we move it back into the stalls.”
Drying time depends on the weather. When it 100-plus Fahrenheit, like it has been this summer, it can take just four or five weeks. But other times of the year, it can take up to three or four months.
The farm is able to reclaim 11 to 12 dump truck loads of sand from the sidewalk every day.
“We’re saving about 83 to 85 percent of our sand,” says Jason. “Of course, we’re always adding to that, but we’re able to save a lot in transportation costs, because all of our sand sources are 50 miles away.”
Another area of constant improvement at the farm is the separation system. Mosida Farms is currently downsizing the number of separators to four Houle primary separators, and will be adding Houle secondary separators as well.
Once the manure is separated from the sand, it continues to a 60,000-gallon mixing tank, which allows them to get “a good mix” says Jason.
“Next it goes over to our primary separators.”
The water is collected and some is used for the cows. What water isn’t used continues to build and eventually moves to a storage tank where it pumped onto the fields. What can’t be used on the fields or for the cows, goes on to a lagoon.
“It’s been kind of an evolving thing here since we built the big barn in 2001 perfecting it,” he says. “We’re able to recycle the water many times, that’s part of the reason why we wanted to use this system.”
The solids coming off the separators are composted in windrows and then later spread on fields.
Jason estimates it takes three to six months to fully compost the solids, but it can vary.
“At times we have to add water, because it’s so dry. And it depends on whether it comes out of our heifer pens or if it comes out of the separators. And it also depends on the weather.”
When it comes to spreading, the Batemans use a GPS system and only apply as needed according to their CNMP (Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan). The compost saves on commercial fertilizer says Jason.
“And it’s better because it’s organic and it’s natural. The nutrients are available. In combination with commercial fertilizer, it works really well.”
The liquids used for irrigation are held in a nearby lagoon. Jason says that in the dry state of Utah, storage is handled a bit differently.
“We don’t have to have 160 to 180 days of storage. We can haul all year if we need to, depending on the weather. If it’s stormy, then we can put it in the lagoon, and if it’s not, then we can haul and do whatever.”
Jason says it’s important to “use every resource very wisely.
“You can save millions and millions of gallons that you’re already producing for the cows that you can use later on the crops.”
The Batemans have also installed a state-of-the-art calf barn that has increased production in the herd and just finishing constructing a 600kw solar farm, which began producing power in late July. The solar farm should be able to provide 90 percent of the farm’s energy needs in the winter, and somewhat lesser in the summer.
“We did it to try to hedge your power bill for the next 20-plus years,” explains Jason.
Even with all the work that the Batemans have put into their farm to conserve water – recycling the same water many times and using only 250,000 gallons a day, which is a relatively small amount for a farm of this size – many people unfamiliar with what goes into farming are upset. They would like to see water taken from the farmers for their own use.
“In Utah, water is a big issue because we’re in a drought. The lakes are drying up. It’s hot. People need to understand that we aren’t farming just to make money. We have to make money to be in business, but we’re providing a food source for them and someday they’re going be choosing between a golf course and their food supply. That’s what we’re trying to educate them towards.”
The Batemans are trying to fight this mindset through education.
“We have a lot of visitors,” says Jason.
Some ask to tour, and others are invited. The farm recently hosted two busloads of young diary science students here from all over the country. They’ve also supplied tours for dieticians that graduated from Brigham Young University.
“We teach them that this is where their food comes from. And if not us, where are they going to get their food from? Are they going to buy it from other countries? Countries that don’t have good safety practices like we do?
“Most people don’t understand everything it takes to bring a gallon of milk to their house. And the tens of millions of dollars it takes to be a dairyman nowadays. I think if you can show them that we have nothing to hide; we treat our animals well; we provide a safe, healthy product for them; there’s value in that.”
Some day Jason foresees the farm will run digesters.
“I’ve seen lots of them and we’ve been all over the country looking at them. I’m still not ready to put one in because they still have a lot of problems. Hopefully our end goal is to generate power off of the digesters, off of the manure, and all those things, and still have the nutrients to grow the crops.”
In the meantime, the Batemans will continue to make their farm more efficient and sustainable.
“We’re not done, but we’re getting closer to the end result of what we want.”
Prestage AgEnergy of North Carolina didn’t set out originally to build the largest co-gen plant to run solely on turkey litter. As vice president Michael Pope says, sometimes these things just “kind of evolve.”
Prestage began seriously considering a poultry litter project as far back as 2011. The company put in time doing its homework – and looking at various systems and why certain systems do and don’t work when dealing with poultry.
“Poultry litter doesn’t have the same BTU value as wood. It’s slightly less,” explains Pope. “But because litter is wood-based, it’s a much more traditional fuel source to work with.”
There was also a mandate to utility companies in North Carolina to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy from swine, poultry, wind and solar.
“We started looking at ways to address the mandate to utilities, and also address any potential issues that may come down the road with poultry litter and land application,” says Pope. “Where we’re located – Sampson and Duplin County – there’s a lot of litter that has to be land applied.
In addition, Prestage had successfully used wood chip boilers in the past, and in particular Hurst boilers.
“We’d had great success with their [Hurst] equipment and their products, and that’s part of what led to us collaborating with them on how we could make this work with poultry litter.”
Hurst Boiler, out of Coolidge, Georgia, was also a good choice because of its long history in the energy business. The international manufacturer of a complete line of gas, oil, coal and hybrid biomass fuel-fired steam and hot water boilers has been operating since 1967.
When Prestage initially went to Hurst with its idea, Hurst wasn’t sure if their boilers would handle 100 percent poultry litter, but an unexpected event occurred in Guatemala that would change the course of events.
During a biomass shortage, a Guatemalan poultry company began fueling their Hurst wood chip boiler with chicken litter. As expected, the boiler ran into some issues, but it continued to operate.
“It was a very manual, and very crude process, but it demonstrated that even without treating the litter like we should, these boiler systems could handle poultry litter,” says Pope.
Creating the innovative boiler system for Prestage became a team effort. Hurst made some slight modifications to its system and Prestage made modifications to how it would handle its litter prior to it reaching the boiler. The result was a 1500 HP biomass boiler, the largest in the United States, fueled 100 percent on poultry litter.
To run the boiler 24/7 will require approximately 175 tons of turkey litter per day. Prestage doesn’t see that as a problem. Pope says that not only is the company located in a good area for procuring litter, the industry is expanding in the region.
Crews will go out, as normally scheduled, to approximately 60 turkey farms to do a complete clean out of litter or a “cake” cleaning under the feed and water lines. The litter will be transported back to the facility. And, Pope notes, that although the boiler can run on chicken or turkey litter, the company is currently just focused on turkey litter.
At the Prestage facility, the litter will be brought to a litter building. There the litter will be blended for consistency – nutrient type and moisture content – and then conveyed to the boiler.
“Moisture content is key for utilizing litter in the boiler, and making sure that it gets a fairly consistent product coming in,” says Pope. “Our focus is power production and providing steam for our feed mill to get them off of natural gas. But we’re also focused on using the ash as a fertilizer, as it’s high in phosphorous and potassium.”
Storage is a big piece of the project – both for litter and ash.
While the litter is stored in a large covered facility, the ash will be stored in an enclosed facility because once wet it tends to harden like concrete. The storage space for the ash is large because Prestage anticipates seasonal use by famers.
Prestage doesn’t see itself going into the “Prestage labeled fertilizer bag” business.
“We are teaming up with a very successful regional fertilizer company. We will be using their existing sales channels, and they’re very excited and absolutely believe they can move every ton of ash that we produce.”
The facility will be up and running in December 2016 and Prestage is estimating they will annually produce the equivalent of 95 GWh of power and 9,000 tons of quality ash.
Pope says the nutrient-rich ash product not only gives the company options, but farmers as well.
“The ash can go to fertilizer manufacturers. It can also go straight into field application for the farmers,” says Pope. “That’s nice because a lot of farmers have used poultry litter in land application for their crops, but don’t always get consistent spread and can’t precision farm. So, instead of using litter, they sell us the litter and with the money we put in their pockets, they can take that and buy traditional fertilizer that allows them to precision farm, get better yields on their crops and give the fields exactly what they need.”
The challenges have been exactly what one would expect with a first-of-its-kind system – figuring out exactly what the boiler is capable of, and the make up of the litter to ensure it functions properly and efficiently.
“We’ve learned it’s expensive being innovative. But it’s good, because what it really does at the end of the day is benefit all the poultry growers,” says Pope.
“Growers have to get rid of the litter and land application has been an issue depending on time of the year and the weather. Currently, growers may or may not be able to get the litter out of their houses and land applied. There are certain areas that may be rich in phosphate, where you don’t want to put litter on the ground. Also, farmers never know what the EPA is going to do, and what sort of challenges they may have to face environmentally. What this system does is provide another outlet – a year-round outlet – for poultry growers to send their litter for processing.”
One challenge Prestage didn’t face was finding an experienced crew to run the new facility. An older power plant in the area wasn’t able to successfully complete a conversion from wood chips to poultry litter, and had to shut down. The timing was such that Prestage was able to step in and hire a significant number of people from that facility to operate theirs.
“We’ve got operators experienced in running a power plant and using a wood based product. And they do have some experience from testing poultry litter at their facility. We couldn’t be more blessed,” says Pope. “It was unfortunate that a facility had to close, but we were able to pick up the best of the best to operate this facility.”
Prestage is proud that it hasn’t rushed into this new area, and that it has put in the time and energy to ensure the road it’s taking and the technology sued will be successful.
“Because [Prestage] was new to this arena and because it was all poultry litter, we didn’t want to get out there, fall flat, and it be a failure and a disappointment to the industry,” says Pope. “We want to make sure it works and that it was long-term and that it would create avenues for others or ourselves to expand on what we’re doing.
“We’ve taken our bumps and we got our lumps and bruises, and we know that going forward, we can do this more cost-effectively. I definitely think that this can be replicated at better cost and can provide more benefit to growers and producers in the industry as a whole.”
Does that mean Prestage may build more of these facilities?
“There’s definitely the possibility of putting in additional plants,” says Pope. “We always evaluate what comes along and what makes sense, and we try to stay true to who we are as a company and focus on what we do well. We’re a very successful national pork and poultry company. We’re very good at live production and very good at poultry processing, so getting into power generation and fertilizer production is a new realm, but we’ve got 30-plus years of success behind us and we wouldn’t step out and do these types of things if we weren’t positive we’d be successful
Bison Compost LLC produced 1.5 million pounds of compost last year from feedlot manure collected from the North Prairie Bison Ranch in North Dakota. Photo by Contributed photo
The American bison is making a comeback and a North Dakota-based, start-up company called Bison Compost LLC is hoping this translates into growing sales for their teabag and bulk compost products. Their manure supplier and business partner, North Prairie Bison Ranch (NPBR), hopes it leads to reduced manure disposal costs.
After almost being hunted to extinction, the American bison, or buffalo, has become big business for some Great Plains ranches, and was recently named the National Mammal of the United States.
NPBR manages a 3000-head custom feedlot near Leeds, ND, where they raise the animals exclusively for a single customer. The feedlot is owned by Dennis Sexhus, his son, Sanford, and Keith Kakela.
Bison Compost LLC was formed in 2013 and has three partners: NPBR, Tom and Judy Duenow, and Shelley Mathison-Holmes. Although the Duenows live in Elk River, Minn., and Mathison-Holmes in Winston-Salem, NC, all have roots and past associations with the Leeds area, which is how they found each other to formalize the partnership. The company markets its products under the names ‘Buffalo Earth’ and ‘No. 2 Brew Compost Tea’ for plants.
While he has yet to sit down and crunch the numbers to calculate if composting is delivering a net financial benefit to the bison ranch, Sexhus says they have reduced their number of Frontier hydraulic-push manure spreaders from three to one because the composting process reduces their manure volume by about two-thirds.
Sexhus says NPBR’s main motivations for taking the composting route were to reduce volume, derive a potential extra income from compost sales, and to help out the environment by switching to compost from land applying raw manure. At present, he says all their raw manure is being composted, but only a portion is being sold. The rest is land applied as organic fertilizer for their cash crops until such time as the compost business builds up its distributor network to take all the compost.
“Manure management is a cost for us and is a fairly expensive part of the feedlot business to properly dispose of the manure,” says Sexhus. “We were motivated by trying to turn what was really a liability for us into an asset.”
However, he has a realistic view of the costs associated with converting raw manure into compost.
“I believe that we are benefiting, but making compost isn’t free,” Sexhus says. “This business is fairly new and our goal is to grow it into a viable business. I do know that there are savings, but there are also costs associated with it.”
Prior to the composting venture, the ranch typically stockpiled and land applied its raw manure. It is a combination of animal waste with grass, hay, straw or corn stover.
In addition to substantially reducing raw manure volume, compost also has a lot less odor, and is largely free of weed seeds, pathogens, and fly eggs. These are some of the main selling points of compost, not to mention its benefits as an organic plant food where it increases fertility, water-holding capacity, bulk density and biological properties.
Describing the manufacture of the bison compost as a “warm weather” endeavor, Sexhus says the accumulated manure from the pens is stockpiled and then put into windrows on a designated, 10-acre, drainage-controlled, composting site provided by the bison ranch next to the feedlot.
Tom Duenow says his career as a food business manager brought him considerable experience in recycling, so the idea of recycling manure into compost had some appeal to him. Also, his wife, Judy, had a strong connection to the North Prairie area of North Dakota, having grown up within a couple of miles of the NPBR feedlot. Her family had close family connections with the bison ranch’s owners. Judy also had experience as a business partner with Dennis Sexhus, raising bison in the 1990s before selling out when prices went south.
“I started a conversation with Dennis about the possibility of composting and we just rolled it back and forth for a year or two,” says Duenow. “In 2013, we decided to create a partnership and start composting the bison manure.”
Mathison-Holmes spends a lot of time in North Dakota and is a strong advocate for women becoming more involved in business. Her family comes from Fargo. She was interested in becoming involved in a recycling business that created value-added end products like compost. In fact, she started a venture in manufacturing and marketing bison compost but lost her source of manure. So she reached out to the Duenows and became part of the Bison Compost partnership.
The owners did not have a lot of experience manufacturing premium quality compost, so they turned to the U.S. Composting Council and the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension service for technical assistance. They credit individuals like NDSU livestock environmental specialist Mary Berg with providing great and ongoing assistance in helping to launch their business venture.
Using an excavator, dozer, and front-end loader from the ranch, the feedlot manure is piled into 200-foot-long windrows on the composting site that are 12-feet wide and 8-feet tall. The site has enough room for 15 windrows as well as room for expansion. Temperature is the critical benchmark measured when manufacturing compost and it is measured frequently. The piles are allowed to heat up to 160 Fahrenheit three times. Each time it reaches that temperature, a Vermeer CT612 compost turner – owned by Bison Compost – turns the piles. After turning, the piles cool down then heat up again. The heat is generated by the microbes within the windrows doing their job of converting the manure into compost.
“I like to say that it is kind of a natural pasteurization process,” says Duenow, adding this is how and when the toxins, fly eggs and weed seeds are destroyed.
After turning three times and the heat stabilizes at a lower temperature, the compost piles cure for four weeks. The entire process takes between two and three months.
The black compost is screened to 3/8-inch consistency through a screener supplied by PowerScreen – located in Rogers, Minn. – before being sold in bulk or loaded in small quantities into teabags. Because of the seasonality of compost production, the company rents the screener once it has a large amount of compost accumulated. Timing the production of compost to stockpile for the entire year is an important part of the planning and marketing process as no compost is produced during the winter yet there may be demand for compost from plant enthusiasts.
What Mathison-Holmes brought to the business was the concept of a unique ‘teabag’ compost gardening product. This is a small amount of compost packaged in a teabag. It is dipped in water for about 24 hours and during this steeping process, the compost nutrients are released and ready to use as organic plant fertilizer.
While Bison Compost LLC is still in its infancy, Duenow says the owners have already learned some important marketing lessons. Perhaps the most important is the decision to sell their bagger and focus on selling large quantities of the bulk product to other companies who then bag it under the Buffalo Earth name. Part of the challenge they face is being situated in North Dakota, which is quite some distance to market with a limited labor pool. That’s why for now, the company has focused on marketing its compost in bulk both locally and over longer distances as well as marketing it in smaller, more manageable quantities as the No. 2 Compost Tea product.
In addition to giving the environment a hand-up by converting the raw manure to compost, Bison Compost is also providing much needed employment for a local organization that works with handicapped individuals. They have the contract to package the No. 2 Compost Tea product.
The Duenows and Mathison-Holmes continue to work hard on the marketing front to attract interest outside their local area, and so far, their marketing strategy has worked out quite well. They have sold a large volume of compost to a landscape products company in Minot, ND, which is blending it to create potting mix and garden mix for its customers. Bison Compost also has nursery and garden distributors established in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Northern Iowa, as well as a distributorship established for six states around New York.
Last year, the company produced about 1.5 million pounds of compost. Duenow says they generated about $30,000 in sales and they hope to double that amount this year as well as make good progress on establishing a national market particularly for the teabag product. Their target audience is nursery owners, gardeners, individuals involved in soil remediation and reclamation, as well as gardening enthusiasts.
While there is no difference in the process of manufacturing compost from bison manure or cattle manure, Duenow says they are hoping to leverage their sales to some extent on the growing profile of the American bison itself. They are also hitching their wagon to the green movement, promoting their product as a natural alternative to commercial fertilizer, from a source where the animals are raised without hormones or antibiotics.
To support the start-up, Bison Compost received a $135,000 grant from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, and Duenow says a considerable amount is being used in their ongoing marketing efforts.
“Our name and our product are really gaining more and more interest,” he adds. “It is so much fun to go to shows like Pride of North Dakota and have people come back again and buy our product.”
It is the quintessential dilemma faced by farms that generate significant amounts of liquid manure – should the farmland apply the manure themselves or should they hire a custom manure applicator?
Both have their pros and cons, and it often comes down to how much the farm owner trusts his custom manure applicator with the service they provide. Some issues are really not in the custom manure applicator’s hands, like the weather and exactly when the application is done, because during prime time in spring and fall, the phone never stops ringing. Farmers often must wait their turn for the best custom applicators, which may not always work well with the farm’s cropping timetable. Advantage – farm-based system.
On the other hand, there is the time issue. Some farmers believe it simply makes more sense to hire a custom manure applicator because they and their employees need to stay focused on their dairy or hog operation. And then there is the cost of investing in tankers or a drag hose system, plus the learning curve required to use them properly. Advantage – custom manure applicator.
Dairy farm hand and engineer Mark Tucker believes there is a market niche and a demand for a simple-to-use and affordable drag hose system suited for farmers, and he believes the SlurryQuip system fits the bill.
“In my mind, it fills a gap in the market,” says Tucker. “Most of the North American systems are built overly big for your average farmer. This system is built for the farmer to use.”
The Northern Ireland-based manure application equipment manufacturer is setting up shop in North America. Its systems are currently widely used in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The first North American system was sold last fall to Happy Rock Holsteins in Gladstone, Man., where Tucker is employed as an engineer and farm hand.
The dairy is owned by Steven Smith and has about 750 head, with 350 to 400 milking cows housed in a new free stall barn built two years ago. It has a slatted floor with liquid manure storage beneath it. The manure is pumped out twice a year and land applied. The dry cows and replacement stock are housed in an older barn with straw bedding that is cleaned out every couple of months, stockpiled, and then land applied using two, Kuhn manure spreaders. The dairy also manages about 3000 acres of cash and feed crops, in the vicinity of the dairy. This is where both the liquid and solid manure is land applied in spring and fall. Manure can only be spread in Manitoba between April 10 and November 10.
For two years after the new barn was built, Happy Rock Holsteins hired a custom manure applicator to pump out and land apply their liquid manure but it didn’t turn out as well as they had hoped. In fact, Tucker says land application of the liquid manure by the custom manure applicator destroyed an alfalfa crop twice, which encouraged the dairy owner to want to investigate a drag hose system that the farm could operate themselves. Farm hand Tucker was given the task to investigate drag hose systems and to make recommendations. That’s when he encountered the SlurryQuip system. Given his engineering background, he was quite capable of dissecting the pros and cons of each system and, although SlurryQuip had no systems working in North America, Tucker came to the conclusion that it was the right system for Happy Rock Holsteins to purchase and operate on their own.
While it requires dedicated farm employees to operate the SlurryQuip system, Tucker says that it has its advantages. First, farmers can apply the manure on their own timetable and second, they have the opportunity to more carefully manage nutrients being applied on each parcel. He says, for example, that there are plans at Happy Rock Holsteins to make several applications each year on some parcels after each alfalfa cut. Organizing this type of timely and frequent service hiring a custom manure applicator would be a costly endeavor.
What he also likes about the SlurryQuip system is that the farmer can practice more precise farming, based upon the global position system (GPS) in the tractor, and the ability with the SlurryQuip system to carefully control the flow. With these two features, the farmer can place the liquid nutrients exactly where and in the volume that it is needed based on soil sampling. This is generally contrary to what Tucker sees as the major trend in North American custom manure application, which seems very focused on applying a fixed volume per minute across an entire field versus making application adjustments on-the-fly depending on where it is needed.
“What attracted me to this system is its accuracy,” says Tucker. “Applying volume per minute is fine for the applicator who is being paid by the gallon. For a farmer, who wants to put on the manure accurately, in my view, this system is ahead quite a bit in that respect.”
Another feature that Tucker likes about the system is the ability to reduce flow from the dribble bar by up to 75 percent, meaning that the tractor operator can significantly reduce flow particularly when making turns and also in the event of the need to reduce flow in a hurry because of a flow issue. He says that is likely what caused the problem in the damaged alfalfa field owned by Happy Rock Holsteins – a problem with over application by this particular custom manure applicator, as the operator made slower turns without reducing the flow rate.
Happy Rock Holsteins essentially purchased the SlurryQuip system based on Tucker’s research over the Internet. The complete system arrived on the farm in a container, almost completely assembled. It was his job to complete the assembly, attach it to the tractor, and put it to work. Given his background in agricultural engineering, he says it was less scary for the dairy to make the equipment purchase in this way. There were no issues attaching the system to the farm tractor’s PTO and three-point hitch.
“When we looked at the system, certainly in my eyes, it was fairly simple to see how it worked, the fact that it could work, and that there were no design flaws,” says Tucker. “Both Steven and I saw many design advantages. We saw that it was much simpler to use from the farmer’s point of view than what we saw in North American systems.”
He and the dairy owner also liked that all the components are galvanized.
“In 10 years time, assuming we don’t bend or break anything, the machine will still look like new,” says Tucker.
He says the design of both the SlurryQuip hose reels and lift systems, and how they are designed to work with just one tractor in the field, powered off the tractor’s PTO and with the reeler mounted on the dribble bar, this makes it possible for one person to manage the whole field operation, which they accomplished at Happy Rock Holsteins. They only had one other person involved, looking after the pump at the farm site.
The SlurryQuip system was put to work throughout last fall’s application season with no issues. Shortly after the manure was land applied, it was disked into the soil.
“We made some errors ourselves, given the learning curve,” says Tucker. “But as far as the machine, we didn’t have one problem. The system worked straight out of the crate.”
Their SlurryQuip system consisted of two Bauer pumps, a Vogelsang macerator, a Krohne flow meter for inside the tractor cab, 2.4 kilometers of a combination of 5-inch and 6-inch Oroflex umbilical hoses, four SlurryQuip reels, two SlurryQuip reel lifters and a 31-foot wide SlurryQuip dribble application bar. The dribble bar was mounted on a 724 Fendt tractor, which Tucker says provided far more power than they needed. He suspects that a 100 horsepower tractor would have been adequate for their system because it is a dribble bar versus an injection system. They used the PTO from another farm tractor to power the pump to suck the liquid manure from the tank through the umbilical hoses to the applicator in the field. The system allowed the dairy to reach about 70 percent of its farmland, using only one pump.
Many of the system’s components, like the pumps and hoses, are common, off-the-shelf brand items available worldwide, although Tucker says there are few wear parts on the equipment.
June 7, 2016, Dundee, OH — Welcome to the manure fortress, said Tim Sigrist, stretching his arms to show off three acres of composting manure. What started as trial and error and homemade contraptions, continues to be trial and error and homemade contraptions, but has become a successful business venture for the Sigrist family.
Bull Country Compost, in Tuscarawas County, sold 44,000 bags of compost in 2015, which is a significant jump from the 10,000 to 12,000 bags they sold their first year back in the early 1990s. READ MORE
Hog manure from the project will produce approximately 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality renewable natural gas (RNG) annually, or the equivalent of 17 million gallons of diesel fuel annually (17 million DGE). Photo by Contributed photo
What happens when you bring an alternative energy company and pig farms together? Well if the farm owner is Smithfield Foods Hog Production in northern Missouri, which finishes two million pigs a year, and the energy company is Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE), the answer is a lot of renewable natural gas.
About six years ago, Smithfield (then Premium Standard Farms) was dealing with issues around its sustainable manure management plan. Rudi Roeslein, founder and president of Roeslein Alternative Energy, didn’t see a problem but a potential partnership. His company would capture the methane from Smithfield’s 88 lagoons spread out over nine farms and convert it into natural gas.
“We have a project that makes both economic sense and environmental sense. And we have worked through the technology of how to make it happen,” Roeslein says.
Project is launched
Discussions between the parties resulted in just such a project launching two years ago, with the goal to have the first natural gas-produced pig manure to be injected into an ANR pipeline sometime in the summer of 2016.
The project, although large in scale, is fairly simple in its overall concept. When it’s complete, Smithfield’s farms will have impermeable covers installed on each lagoon. When temperatures are favorable, anaerobic digestion will begin and biogas will be created. The biogas will be filtered/purified (collected and cleaned of sulfur and other impurities) into a gas that is 98 percent methane and has the same molecular composition as natural gas. The cleaned biogas, or renewable natural gas, will be transported underground to an interconnection with the ANR pipeline, and then transported to customers across the country.
When in operation, the hog manure from the project will produce approximately 2.2 billion cubic feet of pipeline quality renewable natural gas (RNG) annually, or the equivalent of 17 million gallons of diesel fuel annually (17 million DGE).
“We cannot look at manure as waste any more,” Roeslein says. “We have to figure out what we can do with manure to keep it in the cycle. There are no silver bullets. But this is a small step in showing how to use these underutilized resources to produce energy and return everything that remains productively back to the landscape. Because that’s how nature really works.”
One of the reasons this project was an ideal demonstration of how the biogas technology can work with the pig industry was location. The ANR pipeline runs across the Smithfield farms.
“RAE has been making very good progress covering the lagoons in a systematic approach,” says Sheldon Ripson, spokesman for Roeslein. “There are 88 lagoons, each approximately four acres [holding 15 million gallons of manure] that need to be covered, with a number of other pieces of equipment to handle the gas being installed along the way. It’s fairly complicated. But they are making steady progress.”
RAE is investing about $120 million into the biogas project. The company anticipates the project won’t just provide renewable natural gas, but also provide hundreds of jobs, and a model for how the swine industry can achieve a more sustainable and profitable business.
Ripson says future partnerships between RAE and other farms will take various shapes.
“Part of the vision here is to show this as a demonstration project on how a system like this can work for handling manure. It’s applicable on any number of operations across the Midwest.”
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report said there are thousands of hog operations where anaerobic digestion of hog manure can be economically viable.
“Farmers are busy doing what they do,” Ripson adds. “RAE brings expertise in delivering projects. A company like RAE can fill the gap with a model that makes sense for the producer, both economically and environmentally. Because if you don’t have both of those, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to go forward.”
Simple concept, big benefits
It will take months from the covering of the first lagoon to the last. Methane production, however, doesn’t wait. As the pipelines and purification systems are being installed, the methane is being collected from the first lagoons and being flared off.
Although natural gas isn’t being created yet, Smithfield has already seen some positive effects from just installing the covers. And, the two companies anticipate:
- the prevention of approximately 400 million gallons of rainfall water from entering lagoons
- the elimination of water treatment costs, as rainwater will safely return to the groundwater supply
- the prevention of approximately 850,000 tons of CO2 equivalent methane reaching the atmosphere
- the elimination of hog manure odors
“One of the biggest initial reasons for getting into the project was heavy rainfall that presented an issue with the lagoons,” Ripson explains. “There is a marked improvement with lagoon covers, which keep rainwater out. The rainwater is clean and goes back into the groundwater supply.”
Or the millions of gallons of clean water can be captured to feed hogs or irrigate fields.
Another benefit of anaerobic digestion is the variety of byproducts that can be created from the digestate solids. It can be spread on crops, or it can be used for agriculture, landscaping and public works projects with the benefits of erosion control, water absorption, soil nutrient infusion, and reduction of petroleum-based fertilizer use.
Selling the compost to third parties is something that will be looked into down the road. Currently, Smithfield, which has large tracts of land (approximately 50,000 acres), is pumping the liquid off the lagoons and spraying onto their fields.
Introducing prairie grass
The second phase of this project – and one that RAE is extremely excited about – is the potential of adding prairie grass to the mix. There is plenty of land in the Midwest that is considered either highly erodible or marginal, and where prairie grass is suited to grow. Farms with land that falls into that category could ideally see that land becoming profitable versus a liability, and provide habitat for wildlife.
“We are looking at native prairie restoration opportunities to produce additional feedstock to increase energy output. It improves the economic model of the project,” says Chris Roach, director of Roeslein Alternative Energy. “But that land restoration is also how we create more habitat and ecological benefits, which are frankly missing from all other models of producing renewable energy.”
Also, prairie grass is by itself a great fuel source. Restored grassland plantings from multiple species can produce fuels with greater net energy gains per acre than corn or soybeans. And mixtures of native perennial grasses and other flowering plants provide 51 percent more usable energy per acre than corn ethanol.
“It’s not something new,” Ripson says. “Germany has been doing it for some time. They have about 7,000 anaerobic digestion systems that handle waste grasses and other kinds of biomass to generate methane. There’s no reason that can’t happen over here as well by using prairie grass feedstock.”
The enormous scope of this project requires both flexibility and patience. Each of the nine locations requires a different set up. Due to that, it’s hard to estimate the final cost. But RAE owner Rudi Roeslein is dedicated to making it happen.
He’s not the only one who sees a big opportunity. There are currently 239 anaerobic digestion facilities in agricultural operations in the United States. And AgSTAR estimates that biogas recovery systems are technically feasible at more than 8,000 large dairy and hog operations.
“The RNG can go right into the pipeline and can be used anywhere across the country once it’s in that pipeline,” Ripson explains. “The company’s first offtake client for this project is Duke Energy in North Carolina. There is already a contract in place and the company intends to take a lot of this gas to help meet its renewable energy requirements.”
There also doesn’t look to be any problem finding future offtake customers, Ripson says.
“There’s an emerging market for renewable natural gas. For example, that market is more established in California where there’s quite a large interest in this kind of thing. The economics are quite favorable for renewable natural gas.
“The technology we have developed is ready to be deployed commercially in a project that makes both economic sense and environmental sense,” Roeslein says. “This is not just about converting the manure from almost two million pigs into renewable energy. It’s about taking environmental sustainability to a new level.”
An overall solution
This summer will be a big milestone for RAE as the RNG created from the two million pigs hits the pipeline. But many see this as only one of its many positive benefits.
“This project will show how farmers can do more than produce food. We can make energy, we can reduce waste, and we can be good stewards for our most important resources – land and water,” says Blake Boxley, director of environmental health and safety for Smithfield Foods Hog Production.
It’s a solution that is a win/win for everyone, Ripson says – the farmer, the energy companies, the offtake customers and the environment.
Jesse Jones, owner of Jones Custom Manure Hauling in Pennsylvania, has done an exceptional job of “keeping the wheels turning” on his custom manure application and hay-making business.
The key to his success has been to diversify his business and his list of clients, keeping an open mind to any opportunities that might come his way. Conducting most of his business in Pennsylvania and neighboring Maryland, Jones will travel as far as three and a half hours from home to work.
“If it pays, we’re willing to go,” Jones says. “We try to utilize our equipment all year long,” and if last year is any indication, they have met that goal, as they were busy throughout the entire year.
The lynchpin of his business – located in Carlisle, about 35 miles from Harrisburg – are his tractors, which not only pull his manure tanks through the fields but also transport the tanks from job to job, and work in snow removal at various warehouses and parking lots, using the snow pusher attachments placed on them. In addition to custom manure application, Jones has also diversified into custom hay merging and mowing to help local dairy farmers produce silage. The tractors are also used to pull the company’s mowing and merging equipment.
Jones’s primary business is providing custom manure hauling and application services for the large Pennsylvania dairy industry, in an area he describes as very similar in appearance to the Irish landscape. Unlike the western United States, he says it’s rare to find a 200-acre single patch of farmland in that part of the country. Like rural Ireland, the area consists of numerous small patches typically less than 100 acres each, with a lot of houses, plenty of hills, and narrow roads. As the area is situated between two mountains, Jones says that he is fortunate in that different areas tend to dry out at different times in spring. So he is not pressed from all quarters to make himself available to land apply manure all at the same time. He has the luxury of being able to move his equipment from one area to another at precisely the time it is needed.
Jones Custom Manure Hauling land applies more than 120 million gallons of manure annually, with most of the manure surface applied on the soil. His dairy clients milk anywhere from 40 to 600 cows. The manure from each dairy farm is land applied on their own farmland. Jones has transported manure from the lagoon for land application up to 10 miles.
However, he has also found a way to diversify beyond the local dairy industry, which is prone to fluctuations in milk prices. About 20 percent of his business is using his manure application equipment to inject organic material shipped in from various food processing facilities. Jones has a contract to receive the material, which is then either stored in liquid manure lagoons among his dairy clients who have agreed to accept the food waste for land application later, or sometimes it is land applied as it arrives. He says this organic material is in high demand among local farmers because of the positive impact it has as fertilizer in crop production.
“We’ve seen crazy results,” Jones says. “We’re talking about some miracle grow here. There is about 70 pounds of nitrogen to a tanker load of it.”
Jones owns the business with his father, Jason. It was incorporated in 2004. Jones grew up on the family dairy farm, following in his father’s and grandfathers’ footsteps. However, he says that working with livestock didn’t appeal to him. He describes himself as someone who prefers to work in the field running equipment, which was his biggest motivation for taking up a career in custom manure application. He started by working for someone else, and when that business owner wanted to sell out, he jumped at the opportunity to strike out on his own and hasn’t looked back since.
His father continues to actively farm, managing a dairy with 100 milk cows and planting crops on 800 acres. Some of the food processing waste that Jones is contracted to land apply is applied on this acreage as organic fertilizer.
Over the years, the business has grown steadily both in the size of its manure applicator fleet and in the geographic area that the company services. Jones says the business has had its ups and downs, particularly during a three-year stretch starting in 2009 when there was a glut in milk production and dairy farms were finding it hard to keep the lights on. The company faces a similar situation now. While their input costs have gone down because of the price of fuel, milk prices have also taken a nosedive. Also, Jones is in an area with a large Mennonite population, and when they decide to do business with someone else, they tend to do so as a large group. Despite the challenges over the years, Jones’s strategy of business expansion and diversification has paid off, as demonstrated by his recent purchase of five new John Deere 7290 auto track and auto steer-equipped tractors to replace four John Deere 7280 tractors purchased in 2012.
The company had been using Series 8 John Deere tractors previously but was feeling squeezed on the cost when they investigated a new fleet of tractors.
“We discovered that the Series 7 John Deere would do just as well as a Series 8 would, so in our eyes, it is a big little tractor and it does what we need it to do, which is why we took that route,” Jones says.
In addition to these new John Deere tractors, Jones also has a Fendt 930 tractor and six 6,300-gallon Houle manure tanks. The company evolved into more manure injection once it took on the food processing disposal contract, outfitting two of its tanks with Houle toolbars equipped with Dietrich 70 series injectors. The remaining four tanks surface-apply the liquid manure. They also have two Houle lagoon agitation pumps and one Dryhill agitation pump.
They added hay mowing and merging to their complement of services in 2012, and this is accomplished using Pottinger triple hay mowers, an H & S hay merger and an Oxbo hay merger.
Jones says he is open to the idea of investing in a drag hose system, but given the number of hills in the area, the smaller parcels of land and the number of housing developments being constructed, it would have to be the right circumstances with a customer before he could justify making that move. Right now, he says his tanker system is a good match for his customer base.
Jones has worked hard and, he says, “too many 24 hour days” during the past 12 years to develop a modern fleet and a professional service, taking any required training to ensure that he and his four employees are qualified according to the standards of various states where he conducts his business.
Over the past decade, he says there have been many legislative changes intended to ensure that farms have a nutrient management plan and that custom manure applicators land apply according to a plan typically developed by an agronomist. He adds there is greater concern about nutrient drainage into watersheds and he has adapted his application practices accordingly to ensure he is leaving an adequate buffer, depending on whether or not the farmer has sown grass in drainage areas to minimize the potential for manure seepage. Winter application rates have also changed, limiting their application rate to 5,000 gallons per acre, but Jones adds that applying in winter takes common sense. If there is a foot of snow on the ground, there shouldn’t be any manure spreading.
“We are manure certified,” says Jones, which required a daylong course offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, followed by a test.
“If you didn’t pass that test, you shouldn’t be hauling manure,” he adds. “New laws have come into effect, there are certain setbacks that we have to deal with now, and we also have record keeping of where we put each individual gallon into each individual field.” While he now spends about double the time for record keeping and billing, he believes that new laws tracking where manure is applied have elevated the general level of professionalism among those willing to adapt to new standards.
To this point, they have not installed flow meters in their tractors, but calculate the application rate based on their speed and the acreage that they are covering.
“We know how we are putting it down with simple math,” Jones says. He adds that so much of operating a successful custom manure application business is just using common sense on where and when to apply.
He says over the past decade, the area in which he works has witnessed a lot more urbanization, with many individuals moving in but working in places like Washington. This has added another element to how he conducts his business on a day-to-day basis.
“The farms have always been there, so they [neighbors] know that the manure is going to get spread at some point,” Jones says. “We’ve had minimal complaints. We’ve done this for a long time, they see our rigs, they know what time of year that this is going to happen, so it’s expected. If they move to the country, they have to expect that.”
March 21, 2016, Loyal, WI – Meyer Family Dairy in Clark County, Wis., has included the LWR Manure Treatment System as part of its latest expansion strategy.
This addition will allow the dairy to add more cows without having to acquire more land for manure storage. Also, by concentrating manure nutrients into a stable fertilizer, no additional land will be required for manure spreading. Most significantly, by adding the LWR system they will have the ability to recycle up to 75 percent of the water back from the dairy manure, eliminating of the need to drill a high-capacity well.
Meyer Family Dairy is located in a dryer part of the state and was considering the installation of a high-capacity well before deciding to install the LWR system.
“We’ve had some fairly aggressive growth over the last few years,” says dairy spokesperson Mike Meyer. “In order to achieve our targets, we needed an additional water source to wash our sand bedding. This installation will allow us to achieve our expansion in a sustainable way.”
The regulation of groundwater withdrawals has been a highly debated topic in the state of Wisconsin, as it is in most parts of the U.S. Although farmers use groundwater in reasonable and productive ways, they continue to be faced with regulatory pressure. Wells are regulated depending on capacity, such as 70 gallons per minute, or 100,000 gallons per day. Farmers must acquire a permit for a high-capacity well and that permit must be approved by the WI Department of Natural Resources. In 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its Lake Beulah decision, which has led to regulatory uncertainty in the state for any reconstructed wells, replacement wells, existing wells and new wells.
“It has been said that groundwater is the number one issue of the future,” says Ross Thurston, president of LWR. “By installing the LWR system, Meyer Family Dairy will have more control over their water resources. They won’t have to drill an additional well, battle regulations, or ask permission to access more water. They have water already available to them, which can now be unlocked by the LWR system. This is an exciting installation as it demonstrates that the LWR system is not only a manure management tool, but that it is truly a sustainable water source for livestock operations. ”
The system, scheduled for installation this summer, will be the third in Wisconsin.
March 21, 2016, Merrillville, IN – Chicago startup AmpCNG launched at a farm in northwest Indiana that converted cow manure to renewable natural gas.
Nearly five years later, that manure from Fair Oaks Farm is still a core part of the West Loop-based startup’s business. But its reach has grown. It now owns and operates 19 compressed natural gas, or CNG, stations in eight states, fueling the increasing number of vehicles that operate on the resource. READ MORE
The triple beater design with mechanical, direct drive on MMI International’s surface manure spreaders keep mechanical breakdowns to a minimum when spreading bedding pack manure. Photo by Photo courtesy of Mary Berg
North Dakota is noted for its wide-open spaces. So it should come as no surprise that the cattle feedlot industry is big business in the state. Ranchers in the Medina area, west of Bismarck, have come to depend on custom corral cleaning and manure spreading companies like Randy’s Barnyard Service, but it’s a feast or famine business that requires careful management.
The Medina-based business is owned by Randy and Sherry Everding. They typically work within a 100-mile radius of Medina.
“I have cow-calf customers that only have five loads of manure and others have 400 loads,” says Everding. “It really varies.”
He says he spreads in the neighborhood of 75,000 tons of manure annually.
All of Everding’s equipment is geared toward surface manure application. The fleet at Randy’s Barnyard Service consists of three model 379 Peterbilt trucks, and one model 378 Peterbilt truck, as well as four MMI International manure spreaders. They vary from 17-foot, 18-foot and 19-foot, triple beater designs. He also has one 721 and two 621 Case loaders.
Everding says he has had experience with this brand of manure spreader since he started out in the business nearly 25 years ago. Trying to spread bedding pack manure properly, especially considering what some of the local ranchers mix in with it, can be a challenge. Some not only mix straw into the bedding pack, but corn stalks. What Everding likes about this brand is that the beaters are mechanical and direct-driven versus hydraulically-driven. They seem to handle the bedding pack manure better with fewer mechanical breakdowns.
In fact, Everding’s ability to reduce and spread the bedding pack manure with this technology has brought business back to him.
“I run triple beaters on my manure spreaders, which gives a finer spread,” he says. “Our farmers seem to like that.”
Many of his customers use the no-till field management method, so a finer spread is a good match for this style of farming. The amount of manure applied per acre is controlled by the manure spreader apron control mechanism in the truck cab.
“A lot of them want it spread thin and then they seed right through it,” says Everding. “According to the people at North Dakota State University, you lose some nitrogen, but after a while it balances out so that the farmers get the same benefit as if it was incorporated.”
Typically, Randy’s Barnyard Service will spread about 30 tons per acre, but essentially they will spread whatever the customer requests. Considerable work is being done by North Dakota State University to determine optimum applications rates depending on the crop being planted.
Everding brings considerable experience to custom corral cleaning and manure spreading as he bought out his dad’s partner in 1991, then his dad in about 2000. What attracted him to the business was the chance to make some decent money, given the demand.
He says that feedlots in his area tend to be smaller than other areas of the country and operate more on a seasonal basis. Most are family operations ranging from about 100 head to as many as 2,000 head. They typically raise cattle from fall to spring, and empty out the feedlot in summer.
There is also a fair amount of grain farming in that area around Medina of primarily soybean, corn and cereal grain crops, where a lot of the feedlot manure from Randy’s Barnyard Service finds a home. There are even some dairies in the region ranging from 300 to 1500 milk cows. Randy’s Barnyard Service has attracted some business from this agriculture sector as well.
Everding understands that downtime can be a nasty, eight-letter word for custom manure applicators, and given the seasonal nature of the feedlot industry in his part of the world, dealing with downtime is necessary. So he has developed a business model where he offers multiple services to the farming community, as there always seems to be an assortment of farm jobs that require an implement of some sort. During the slow season, his backhoe keeps him busy helping farmers install waterlines and sewer systems. North Dakota is also noted for its winters, so there is no lack of snow removal opportunities.
Everding also supplements his custom manure application business making his belly dump gravel trucks available to road construction and gravel contractors. He says that being diversified has been critical to his business’s health.
“I call it feast or famine up here,” he says. “You give ‘er heck and wait; give ‘er heck and wait. To keep employees around, you have to diversify.”
The critical time for pen cleaning and manure spreading is right before seeding and after harvest where he will sometimes work long hours for several months straight.
After the spring rush, it stays quiet for a while, but by mid-summer, he starts to pile a lot of the manure from feedlot corrals in anticipation of the busy fall spreading season. By moving and piling the manure-laden bedding pack in the corrals in advance of spreading, it allows the bedding to break down a bit so it is easier to apply later in fall. Often the manure is piled right in the corral because as is typical in that part of the country, the feedlot owners don’t keep cattle through the summer anyway.
“By that time of year, you can work six days a week, as many hours as you want,” Everding says. “My busiest time will be the end of July through to the end of November, depending on when Mother Nature decides to lower the temperature. We’re burned out by then anyway, running 70 hours a week all fall.”
They take December off, except for snow removal. By the middle of January, staff returns to the shop and starts to prepare equipment for the coming spring application season, which can start by about the first week of March.
Everding says the biggest challenge to growing his business is not lack of opportunity, but finding employees willing to work within the ebb and flow that occur in this line of work. He employs five people. He’s adopted a couple of strategies to encourage employees to stick around and return between the busy seasons. One is to voluntarily contribute to the government unemployment insurance program so that employees can make an insurance claim during the slow season and pay the bills. The company also provides medical insurance. As a further financial incentive, Randy’s Barnyard Service pays employees time and a half after 40 hours of work, which can amount to a substantial boost to individual income, considering the long hours worked during the busy seasons.
“Sometimes, that amounts to 30 hours of overtime, which is a hit on my pocketbook, but the employees smile when they get their checks,” says Everding. “We have oilfields in Western North Dakota and everybody would be running over there to get $35 per hour. But now the oilfield has slowed up big time. This is the first year that I haven’t actually had to scream and holler all over the United States for help.”
He has noticed a number of changes in how the business operates now compared to when he started in 1991. There were more small dairies in the area as Medina had a cheese plant, there was more manure spreading in the spring, and more farmland available for manure spreading in the summer. Back in the early 1990s, it was almost possible to operate year round because summer fallowing was still being done on some cropland. That’s no longer the case with the big focus now on intensive farming, where as many acres as possible are seeded. Consequently, Everding faces a lot more stress to apply manure within a shorter fall application season.
Also the manure spreading technology and methodology has improved quite substantially. Everding says in the early days, he’d do both the loading and the spreading and he’d be lucky to spread 40 to 50 loads a day. Now, if he doesn’t get 120 loads a day, “I’m hurting. What I’m getting paid per load is probably double what it was in 1991, but my parts and labor costs are way up. It seems that what used to cost $100 is now $1000.”
However, he says he has learned from experience that it pays to encourage his drivers to slow down, take their time, and avoid any issues with messes left behind in yards and on roads.
He started out with two trucks but that has grown to four trucks, and for efficiency, Everding says he spends more time operating the loader now to make sure production moves ahead smoothly, rather than behind the wheel of a spreader truck.
“I look after the loading and the piling because I get paid by the load, so it’s important to keep the trucks humping,” he says.
While the days are long, it’s a more tolerable way to work with one person looking after the piling and loading, while workers spend most of their time transporting and applying the manure in air-conditioned trucks.
Everding says he’d like to expand his fleet, and while more workers now seem to be available because of layoffs in the oilpatch, it’s still a difficult financial decision to make, wondering if there will be enough warm bodies behind the wheel over the long term if the oilpatch picks up again.
January 26, 2016, Frederick, MD – A Frederick-based company is working to help farmers turn animal manure into money.
Triea Technologies LLC, a science and technology company looking to reduce pollution and conserve energy in the agricultural industry, has developed two technologies that put animal manure to good use, said Chris Haug, the company’s chief executive officer. READ MORE
Buying quality equipment and keeping it in top condition can make or break a manure business. Photo by Contributed
Because farms are growing larger and more landowners have discovered the nutrient value of manure as a valuable source of organic fertilizer, there are many new business opportunities throughout North America in custom manure application.
However, there are certain unique aspects to custom manure application that new entries to this industry should consider prior to taking the plunge. Among the biggest challenges is the seasonality of this service as well as finding and keeping employees because of its seasonality.
Two new North Dakota custom manure application business owners offer their suggestions on these, and other hurdles faced in this growing industry. Both serve primarily the cattle industry and provide both pen cleaning and manure application services.
Nic and Ben Beach, owners of Beach Custom Hauling, have learned a lot in the seven years they have been in the custom manure application business, headquartered in Carrington, N.D. The brothers started the business from scratch, and while it took a few years to get on their feet, Nic says that it does get easier once a regular clientele is established. But first and foremost, when it gets busy, their equipment has to be in peak working condition and staff need to be in place once the phone starts ringing.
Nic says the key to Beach Custom Hauling earning repeat business is their efficiency and the use of quality equipment.
“We’re really mobile,” Nic says. “We can be in one area and move to another area 60 to 100 miles away the same day, and still get something done when we get there.”
He adds that people entering the industry without reliable equipment don’t stand much chance of success because there is a short window of opportunity and if equipment breaks down for a couple of weeks, this could have serious financial and customer service consequences for the business.
Nic, 30, and his brother Ben, 27, offer their services primarily to cattle producers within about a 150 mile radius of Carrington, generally north of the I-94 highway corridor. There are a lot of cow-calf ranches and feedlots in that area as well as grain farmers, with ranches ranging from 300 to 6,000 head of cattle. There are also some buffalo ranches located in the area.
Beach Custom Hauling applies between 180,000 to 200,000 tons of manure annually and it is all surface applied, with landowners following up usually within a day or two to incorporate the nutrients into the soil. Sometimes, they are right behind the manure spreader. Because the area is primarily farm country, Nic says they are lucky not to have to deal with odor issues.
Most of their business occurs in spring and fall, with fall being the busiest. It’s not uncommon during that time for the brothers and their four staff members to work 15 to 18 hour days, six days a week, usually as soon as crops start coming off in August till close to Christmas in a typical year. The spring season is extremely busy just before the cropping season.
“Spring time is a mad dash to stay ahead of the guys with their planting,” Nic says. “Some feedlot customers like to have their manure hauled out in spring so that they have all summer to let the pens dry and firm up. And it’s good for fly and disease control to remove it then as well.”
The challenge, Nic says is how to maintain cash flow during the slower periods. Their solution has been to diversify their business to include scrap metal reclamation as well as hauling cattle feed and propane. This helps to keep employees year round, maintain cash flow, and makes more efficient use of their truck fleet.
“It’s tough to get that money train rolling and then when things freeze up, it just stops,” Nic says. “If you are going to be a year-round operation, you have to be able to generate income some way.”
Since starting in the custom manure application business, they have found that keeping employees is a significant challenge that limits business growth. So to overcome this issue, Beach Custom Hauling has tried a new approach this year – working with a manure spreader owner/operator. He is a local landowner who is supplementing his income, and this removes the risk for the Beach brothers of having equipment potentially sitting idle for lack of an operator. The owner/operator is responsible for his own equipment and staffing. They simply dispatch him to jobs and provide him with a loader. Should the company choose to expand, Nic says they likely will look at adding more owner/operators.
Their fleet consists of two Cat 928 wheel loaders, three double frame and heavy suspension 357 Peterbilt trucks, and a heavy-duty Kenworth truck. The trucks are all in the 500 horsepower range. Three MMI International manure spreaders and a Spread-All manure spreader are mounted on these trucks. They chose these specific truck-mounted manure spreaders because the direct drive on the MMI International unit provides the beaters with enough power to chew through bedding pack material. The Spread-All has a simple set up with bigger shanks on the beaters, which again helps with breaking down bedding pack material.
The manure spreaders are 20-ton boxes with moving floor aprons and horizontal beaters. They come equipped with variable speed controls within the cab so that the operator can adjust the application rate by adjusting the speed of the apron and adjusting the speed of the truck. Typically a grain crop will have between 15 and 20 tons of manure applied per acre. To minimize field compaction, the trucks are equipped with single Michelin radial flotation tires instead of the standard dual tires on the back of the truck chassis.
Custom manure applicator Jonathan Hofland, owner of Hofland Agricultural Services LLC with his father, Ray, has encountered similar challenges as far as attracting employees willing to work the type of hours required by a custom manure application business. They are headquartered south of Dickinson, N.D. – an area with plenty of oil activity and competition for employees. They offer their services within about a 150-mile radius of home base.
Two years ago, the Hoflands purchased a custom manure application business and recently sold their cattle herd to dedicate themselves fully to custom manure application. Jon says there was more stability by way of predictable cash flow with the custom manure application business versus the financial peaks and valleys of raising cattle.
“No matter what the prices are for cattle, the manure still has to be hauled,” Jon says.
The business they purchased had two truck-mounted manure spreaders, a Case 621D front end loader, and a Case skid steer. The challenges of keeping seasonal employees as well as servicing customers caused Jon to look at other manure spreader options, which led him to invest in a large volume, pull-type manure spreader. They purchased a Degelman M34 manure spreader with vertical beaters pulled by a Case Magnum 305, front-wheel-assist tractor to complement their two existing, truck-mounted manure spreaders.
Jon says with the pull-type manure spreader, they are able to carry twice as much manure as a truck-mounted manure spreader and can broadcast the manure more than twice as wide.
“Heaped full, we’re about one bucket short of two truckloads in it,” Jon says.
While the weight of the loaded, pull-type manure spreader is a concern with some customers at about 40 tons per load, the wide tires on it compensate for the extra weight, plus with a wider spread pattern with the vertical beaters, they are making fewer passes in the field, resulting in less compaction.
Also, he is able to apply the same amount of manure in about three-quarters the amount of time as a truck-mounted manure spreader operation, can load and spread the manure with half as many employees, and operate year round because of the durability of the spreader.
“This past year, we ran all the way through the winter as long as our front end loader could dig into the manure piles,” Jon says. “I didn’t have more than two months where we weren’t actually spreading manure somewhere.”
Hofland Agricultural Services LLC is planning to purchase a second pull-type manure spreader this fall. In doing so, Jon can work the long hours required during the busiest fall season with one spreader and tractor while his father can work with a second spreader and tractor. They have one employee and he only works 40 hours a week. The only challenge with this lean employee approach is when moving from one location to another, as more than one person is required on site to help with the move. In this case, they hire part time help, as needed.
Jon says that in addition to good customer service, their technology is a big advantage because their customers are amazed at the results. In one instance, the company was able to surface apply manure on steep ground where Jon says he wouldn’t even think of taking a truck-mounted manure spreader.
“That customer is in the coffee shop just about every day talking about how amazed he is with the results,” Jon says. Positive word of mouth like that is money in the bank for new custom manure application businesses. At present, they apply about 150,000 tons of manure annually, but Jon expects that to increase to as much as 250,000 tons once they purchase their second pull-type manure spreader.
He says based on his experience, taking the time to do some advance research on equipment performance can definitely influence how successful new entries to custom manure application will be.
“Do your research on any equipment, whether you are buying it used or new,” Jon says. “Know what you are getting into as far as how much maintenance you are going to have to put into it.”
Turning and adding water to the compost heap located at the City of Yellowknife landfill ensures that high quality compost is created. It is managed by Ecology North. Photo by Contributed
Egg producer Choice North Farms generates almost 3,850 tons of poultry manure annually that it landfills on a designated leased site. The owners wondered if there was a better use for this byproduct and the idea of composting came to mind. If successful, this could help boost farm production in northern Canada by providing a much-needed building block for developing productive soils.
The farm houses about 117,000 laying hens producing about 37 million eggs per year near Hay River in the Northwest Territories (NWT). It is working with an organization called Ecology North, the NWT government, the Canadian government, the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) and Town of Hay River on its composting venture. The plan is to start with a 210 cubic yard pilot scale site involving the use of about 10 tons of manure this summer to test various mixing methods and outcomes, with the goal of developing a full scale site consisting of an area of about 23,500 cubic yards as a commercial composting operation, hopefully by next summer.
Choice North Farms is owned and managed by Glen Wallington and his son, Michael. They own part of the operation and manage another part for a separate egg producer, all under one roof. They started producing eggs under the Choice North Farms label about three years ago and are among the largest egg producers in NWT as well as being a supporter of the Polar Egg initiative. Since 2012, the Polar Egg Company has been certified to grade eggs locally so that not all eggs are shipped to southern markets but also supplied for human consumption in retail stores in the North.
At present, their raw manure is collected on plastic conveyor belts and removed from the barns daily, representing about one dump truck load per day that is transported to a designated landfill area 14 miles from the barns.
The objective of the composting project is to mix raw poultry manure with waste paper and wood. The paper and wood are necessary as part of the conversion process to produce compost. Because of that, Choice North Farms sales and marketing representative, Kevin Wallington, says they are in discussions with governments such as the City of Yellowknife and Town of Hay River, as well as industries dealing with waste paper, such as paper shredding companies and the Yellowknife newspaper, to discuss possible alliances in the composting venture. Kevin is also Glen’s son, as well as sales and marketing director for Polar Egg.
“The composting venture was initiated by us,” says Kevin. “In past years, there had been studies done on old poultry sites to see if there was any feasibility in it. But I don’t think there was really a will on the industry side. It really has to be championed by industry to participate in a venture like this.”
The concept is to establish an open-turned windrow system where the manure, paper and wood are piled into 16 feet wide by 10 feet tall windrows. At full-scale operation, 3,770 tons of poultry manure generated by the egg farm will be combined with 3,080 tons of paper and 550 tons of wood to produce about 4,450 cubic yards of compost annually. One of the benefits of composting is that through biological activity, it reduces the volume of the raw materials, and produces a marketable, pathogen and weed-free compost that can be used as a soil amendment in a variety of growing environments.
Either a wheel loader or pile turner could be used to turn the piles as needed to improve airflow and encourage the conversion process. Not only does Choice North Farms want to convert their current production of manure, but also to use the thousands of tonnes of poultry manure that they have accumulated in their nearby landfill over the past 15 years.
“This project is a benefit to us because if we didn’t compost, then effectively the landfill becomes a liability for us,” says Kevin. “Some of those pits are fairly deep and I don’t think you’d have to dig too low below the surface to find that it is fairly fresh after it’s been there for some time.”
He adds there are no issues with the landfill currently, “but I know that the government is excited about our project because the North is full of stories where people just walked away from things.”
This is one reason why Ecology North became interested in partnering with the egg producer on this project. Kim Rapati, former Ecology North Hay River regional officer and currently operations manager of NFTI, says they were interested in kickstarting a composting initiative in one of the NWT’s larger communities as a way to demonstrate how waste can be diverted from landfills. They decided to partner with Choice North Farms to build a composting operation similar to one they helped to establish and continue to manage in Yellowknife.
Wallington says the egg producer had no experience with composting and that is a major benefit that Ecology North has brought to the partnership, providing the technical know-how needed to launch a composting venture.
Ecology North has been around since 1971 and describes itself as a charitable, non-profit organization headquartered in Yellowknife to support sound environmental decisions made on an individual, community or regional level. Its program focus on three priority areas: public education and awareness; climate change; and, sustainable living.
Last year, the organization presented the finding of its study called, Feasibility of Centralized Composting in Hay River, to Choice North Farms, the Town of Hay River, the Territorial Farmers Association, and Environment Canada. The study conducted by Rapati concluded the poultry composting concept was feasible.
Savings in diverting paper waste from the Hay River landfill to the poultry farm composting site was estimated at almost 18,300 cubic yards of space, a savings of just over $2 million per year. The project costs of establishing the site were estimated at about $350,000, with additional capital costs of $459,000 and annual operating costs of nearly $136,000. To recover those costs, the study estimated that there was the potential to generate just over $235,000 per year in compost sales, with the sales and marketing handled by Choice North Farms.
The egg producer has been speaking to the NWT government for a couple of years about acquiring a fresh parcel of land for the composting site, separate from its existing manure management landfill. It is located about 330 yards from the stockpiled manure in the landfill for easy access.
“The culture of the North for a long time has been dumping,” says Wallington. “Management doesn’t really come into play because we have a lot of space. Unfortunately, a lot of times what that means is that if you don’t have any major issues, you can just continue as you always have.”
However, the agriculture industry is starting to grow in NWT, and he believes that this composting initiative demonstrates leadership on a part of a current northern industry participant that can help set a higher standard for newcomers to this sector.
Rapati agrees that interest in agriculture is definitely growing in the North and that will be a big part of the mandate of NFTI as it develops the 260 farm acres near Hay River under its management. She says that compost is a highly valued commodity in the North because there is so little arable land available in the region to pursue farming ventures in or near the region’s many small communities. However, interest in agricultural practices is very high. Addition of compost to what she described as ‘young soils’ will provide community members with the opportunity to establish and develop their farming skills. Many are expected to obtain those skills through their participation in NFTI programming.
From a technical standpoint, poultry manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and requires the addition of carbon for the overall composting process to work. Choice North Farms is relying on the mentorship and experience provided by Ecology North and is also working with a laboratory in Yellowknife to establish the proper mix to produce high quality compost as an end product. Rapati says that despite the sub-arctic temperatures in northern Canada, it is possible to produce high quality compost, but it takes longer because the air temperature do not stay warm for as long as areas further south. The temperature in the windrows is required to achieve at least 131 F for 15 days and turned five times to ensure that the conversion is complete. Producing compost is more of a time management process in the North adapted to suit local conditions. For example, it has been Ecology North’s practice to produce compost over two seasons in Yellowknife – one season to complete the active conversion process and then a second season to let the compost stabilize to its final form, although in reality, Rapati says the conversion to marketable compost could probably be managed in one season. The frequency of turning and adding moisture to the piles depends on air temperature, airflow and moisture content readings to encourage uniform conversion are taking place within the piles. One advantage of composting in the North is that it has the space to conduct open-windrow composting and because of its sparse population, there are few if any odor complaints.
Kevin says Choice North Farms is excited about the opportunity and eager to get started.
“This is going to be business-driven, probably supported by various organizations, including the government,” says Kevin. “At the end of the day, we would like to have a product that we can sell and use in the North.”
June 9, 2015, Brillion, WI – Ross Thurston, president of Livestock Water Recycling Inc., is drinking potable water from a test tube that an hour ago was part of liquid manure from the 2,600 dairy cows at Shiloh Dairy in Brillion, Wisconsin.
Standing in the 5,000-square-foot building that houses the manure treatment technology, Thurston said that since 2008, his company, based in Calgary, Canada, has been developing technology to allow maximum recovery of nutrients from cow and hog manure and recycle the liquid into potable water for use on farms. READ MORE
The Reeds have also installed grass buffers around waterways in their fields as a safety measure to avoid any potential leaching issues.
With so many pretty farms in Iowa, it’s quite an accomplishment when a farm is named the “Prettiest Farm in Iowa.” That honor was bestowed on Reed Family Farms near Ottumwa in 2014 by Our Iowa magazine. It was one of the first hog farms in the state to win this honor.
Owner Ryan Reed was also named the Pork All-American by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) in 2014. To qualify, a pork producer must have been under 40 years of age and a Master Pork Producer.
The Reeds also earned the IPPA’s Environmental Steward Award in 2011, followed by the 2012 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award from the National Pork Board.
Despite all the accolades, Ryan and his wife, Lana, are a humble couple whose lives are very focused on raising their three children with plenty of community involvement. It comes as no surprise that they are also past recipients of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, that they host a Fourth of July Picnic for about 300 friends and neighbors on their farm every year, and also offer custom manure hauling and application services.
The awards are simply the outcome of a best farming practices management philosophy wherever possible in the layout of both their farm and in their hog operation. For example, they have planted 1,200 trees on each of their two properties as a vegetative buffer to their barns by participating in Iowa’s Green Farmstead Partner program, supplemented by a large lawn and an abundance of flowers.
“The trees were an initiative when we built the barns to make them esthetically appealing as well as help the environment from an odor standpoint,” Ryan says. “Also, it puts a barrier between the buildings and the farm grounds if we did have an issue. There are grass buffer strips around the barns and trees to absorb anything that would happen.”
The tree windbreaks are now mature and Reed says he can tell how any odor coming off the farm is directed because of the location and height of the trees.
They also took particular care in the placement of their barns to have the least impact on neighbors through the Community Assessment Model offered by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.
Their focus on best farm practices extends to their manure management.
“If I want to provide my children’s generation with the same opportunity that I had, this (nutrient management) is something that has to be taken very seriously by the agriculture industry,” says Ryan, who in addition to decades of hog farming experience also has a bachelor of business degree from Northern Iowa University.
The home location of the Reed Farm where Ryan grew up, plus a second location seven miles away, raise about 12,000 hogs from wean-to-finish annually for Cargill. Each site consists of two barns, each housing 2,345 hogs at a time. The barns were built in 2007 when Ryan returned to hog farming after a short stint working in the feed industry. Besides raising hogs, Ryan also plants about 240 acres of corn, with both corn and soybean crop farming being the predominant agriculture endeavor in that area northeast of Ottumwa.
“The opportunity arose to contract through Cargill, which let me both come back to the farm for my family and let me do what I always wanted to do,” Ryan says.
Since making the switch a few years ago from feeder-to-finish to a wean-to-finish hog operation, the hog barns now generate between 2.5 and three million gallons of manure annually. For manure collection, each barn has slatted floors with eight-foot concrete pits beneath the buildings to store manure. These pits can store up to 18 months of nutrients.
“I would say that one of the biggest changes I have seen in hog production over the past two decades has been the nutrient side of it,” Ryan says. “We now analyze manure, take soil samples from the ground, and apply what the plants need on a year to year basis based on corn yields or ground nutrients. That is probably the biggest thing – how we are handling our byproducts from animal production.”
He adds that education within the farming industry led farmers to realize that given the price of inputs, the manure was valuable.
“When we realized what we had, along with some regulation, it has been attractive for us to manage the nutrients carefully,” he says.
Typically, the hog barn pits on the Reed farm are pumped out and the nutrients land applied in the fall, with a small amount done in spring. Because the pits are the hog farm’s long-term storage system, management of the manure for safety, odor and nutrient retention is a high priority.
“Right now I am testing three different pits additives to see what controls odor the best, along with encapsulating the nitrogen phosphate and potash for plant consumption,” Ryan says. “I am always looking for new things to try.”
During fall application, the manure is pumped into a 9,500-gallon, four axle, Houle tank. The tank is equipped with knives and an injection system, with the application rate controlled by a Krohne flow meter in the John Deere 9430 tractor pulling the tank. All told, the manure is applied on between 750 and 1,000 acres – some owned by other Reed family members as well as a few neighbors.
“Typically, I like to inject the manure in the five to seven inch range to make sure that it is being covered and absorbed into the soil,” Ryan says, adding that the majority of the manure in his area is injected.
“Injection, versus surface applied has multiple advantages,” he adds. “The odor, of course, is reduced greatly and the nutrients are where they need to be while preventing them from running off.”
That application depth is within the optimum range for good nutrient uptake by corn, and it is also efficient, as any deeper would require more pulling horsepower. Manure is the sole fertilizer added to the Reed’s cropland, saving the farm about 75 percent on its fertilizer costs if it had to purchase it commercially. The rate of application per acre is determined from soil sampling and a nutrient management plan drafted by a professional agronomist. The global positioning system (GPS) in the tractor helps Ryan keep track of where he is located in a field according to maps provided by the agronomist and he sets the flow meter at the recommended application rate for that area. Typically, the flow rate will be the same for each field, so a lot of adjustment on the fly is not required.
He chose the Houle hauling and injection system because he was familiar with it, having operated one working with a neighbor during his years in college. He describes it as a reliable tank and injection system with plenty of positive history behind it.
Good preventative maintenance on the equipment is important to achieve good outcomes from both an application and safety standpoint.
“Maintenance on equipment is one of the biggest things you can do to ensure that you are not going to have a spill or leakage, that you are getting the manure injected within that five to seven inches, and covered properly with the cover plates,” Ryan says.
The Reeds have also installed grass buffers around waterways in their fields as a safety measure to avoid any potential leaching issues.
The small commercial application branch of the farm business evolved from the need for more acreage to dispose of the hog manure generated by the farm. The Reeds have good relationships with other hog producers in the area, and they help each other as needed during the application season.
Those good relations extend to other areas as well, such as the reason why the Reeds have made an investment into solar power on their farm, and have also investigated the possibility of wind power and anaerobic digestion of their hog manure as an alternative to manure disposal, initially through a partnership in an entity called Tri-Family Farms LLC. Today, two of the company’s partners have proceeded on their own with solar installations.
On the Reed Farm, two, stand-alone solar power installations have been built, one on each farm site and working with a company called E-Pro, to generate 40 kilowatts (kWs) of power per site for use by the farm and in their hog operations. The power is wheeled back and forth through the local utility on a net metering basis, so for whatever power the installations produce, the Reeds receive a credit against their power bill.
“Digesters seem to be cost-prohibitive in our area,” Ryan says. “Solar panels seem to be more popular and I did not see the downside to it. We are fairly early into the solar panel installation, and expansion is an option. Anything we can do to reduce the carbon footprint from the farm is good for everybody.”
Bruce Wessling and his wife, Jenny, run the farm along with their daughters, Jolee and Taylor. Photo by Contributed
The Pork Checkoff, along with its co-sponsor, National Hog Farmer magazine, have again selected two pork farms to be honored at the 2014 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards. The award is now in its 20th year and recognizes producers who are dedicated to safeguarding the environment and contributing to their local communities.
This year, the Pork Checkoff chose Wessling Ag. Inc., of Grand Junction, Iowa, and Stephens Farms of Malta Bend, Mo., to receive the honors.
Wessling Ag. Inc.
Wessling Ag is the definition of a family operation. Bruce Wessling and his wife, Jenny, run the farm along with their daughters, Jolee and Taylor. And Bruce’s parents, Roger and Judy, although semi-retired are also still involved.
Wessling Ag, a contract finishing farm, raises 5,000 hogs on their home site, and 2,500 at the West site about five miles away. In the course of a year, they raise approximately 18,700 hogs and also grow corn and soybeans on 4,600 acres.
Bruce says you’ll find several different barn designs on the two sites because they were built at different times as he expanded.
“The barns I built in 1997, 2000 and 2004 were all roughly the same style. Then in 2009 we went with a little bit wider barn (71 feet x 278 feet), shorter and more power ventilated.”
The newer design, he says, works better, especially in the hot weather.
“It’s a tunnel model with fans running at the end. It creates a breeze through the barn and helps cool the pigs. On a calm day it’s definitely easier to keep the pigs comfortable.”
All of the barns have eight-foot deep pits, where Bruce says he can easily store a year’s worth of manure, and probably up to 15 to 16 months worth if necessary.
Bruce and Jenny believe their farm benefits by surrounding themselves with professionals and hiring the best. One of the companies they hire is custom applicator Neese Inc.
Bruce says in the fall Neese will bring in two or three pumps, primarily Nuhn brand, and can take care of their 5,000-head site in three days.
Just prior to pumping the manure, the pits are agitated for an hour or so.
“We apply straight from the pits to the farmland,” Bruce says. “We like to let the soil temperature cool down below 50 so it helps stabilize the nitrogen.”
The agitation and pumping can be done while the pigs are in the barn. However, Bruce says he adjusts the ventilation based on the size of the pigs and the weather.
“Often we have to have maximum ventilation on the building when we’re pumping, to keep the odor down and the pit gas down in the building.”
Another company the Wesslings rely on is Twin Lakes Environmental, a manure-consulting firm. Twin Lakes writes up the manure management plan and the Wesslings do the testing.
“We give them our soil test and our manure samples out of the pit and then they calculate the nutrients and they tell us how many gallons per acre we can apply to stay in the parameters of our manure plan,” Bruce explains.
Applying can be a bit odorous, but not for long, because the Wesslings inject the manure and till the end rows 24 to 48 hours following application.
Applying their own manure has cut down on the use of commercial fertilizer. Bruce estimates the pigs provide enough manure to cover 1,000 to 1,500 acres.
The family takes pride in this farm, and it shows.
“Keeping it looking nice is something that was instilled in me from my grandpa and dad,” Bruce says.
One attractive feature is the windbreak created by trees the Wesslings planted around their buildings in 2009. The trees have helped keep the wind flow down and reduce odors, but one of the big benefits has been decrease in snow loads up against the barn in the winter.
The Wesslings also incorporated 90-foot buffer strips of switch grass along their creeks, to help filter out any nutrients during rains. Bruce said it was something he said just made sense.
Overall though, Bruce says he’s most proud of the farm’s self-sufficiency. “We’re growing row crops of corn and soybeans for feed and ethanol and turning around and feeding that to livestock and then turning around and using the nutrients from the livestock to put back on the row crop, and fertilize for the next year’s crop. I just think it creates a complete and efficient system for us.”
The second farm to receive the Environmental Steward award was Stephens Farms, operated by David and Sharon Stephens, along with three of their children, who have been involved in the farm since they were toddlers. (Their fourth child went on to become a veterinarian.)
David says he’s been around hogs all his life, but began the operation he’s involved in now with another farmer in the 1980s.
“My wife’s been right in with it, the whole family has. We’ve grown with that site and brought it along to where it is.”
Today, the family works on a farrow-to-wean farm that produces about 190,000 pigs per year. They also raise 600 acres of corn and soybeans on the adjacent land.
Their tunnel-ventilated sow barns feature cool cells for animal comfort in hot weather, as well as shallow-pit manure storage and shower-in/shower-out facilities for enhanced biosecurity.
Although the award focused on one of the farm’s sites, and where the Stephens live, Stephens Farms operates 10 different sites, with one 80 miles from the house. They run two nurseries and the rest are sow units.
Each sow unit has its own manager and all labor is under that manager’s control.
“We are kind of a unique situation and it’s been evolving that way ever since ‘83 when I started the operation,” David says.
Manure is handled differently at different barns because the barns differ in ages, some going back as far as 1982.
“Most of them are more of a shallow pit that drains to the lagoon, and some of them recycle from the lagoon. We’ve got a little of everything,” David says.
Stephens Farms houses approximately 20,000 sows at various locations at any one time. To handle the manure, they rely exclusively on Puck Custom Enterprises (PCE) equipment.
“We’ve been with them since 2010,” David says. “We’ve got their agitation boat for agitating all 10 lagoons. In fact, we bought the first production model they sold in 2010 and have been working with them ever since.”
David says that by going to self-priming equipment the farm has gone from being able to pump 1,400 gallons to 2,200 gallon a minute.
“And we use the Internet to control it all.”
The big change happened when Jeremy of Puck came down to demonstrate some equipment.
“I went to their open house and we purchased that boat off of them that year to kind of learn how that equipment worked – between it and their booster pump – we’ve just been progressing every year since with it.
David has nothing but accolades for PCE.
“They’ve been excellent in every way – the support, the knowledge, the credibility, what they’re trying to make happen, and the performance of the equipment. We’ve never had the performance we got until we got into their equipment. I’m doing things [that] four or five years ago [I] never dreamt of.”
And, for anyone interested in the company’s system, David suggests checking out PCE’s pump schools.
“I’ve gone to a good many of them. They’re open for people looking into buying equipment and all different aspects. There’s a lot of knowledge there to be found.”
David takes the agitation boat from lagoon to lagoon.
“You just pack it all up, put it on trailers and pull it to the next farm and set it up again. In about 30 minutes we have it off the trailer and floating in the lagoon.”
Application happens primarily in the fall, mostly because it’s harder to predict the weather in the spring.
“Typically, as soon as they start harvesting, we’ll start running it,” David says.
The farm uses a drag hose system.
“We use one of Puck’s booster pumps to help boost an arm out,” David says. “And last year we went from six-inch to seven-inch hoses and a 13.5 L 550 HP lead pump motor, which helped.”
Depending on rainfall, David says they have pumped as much at 70 million gallons in one year. But generally they pump 30 to 50 million gallons.
“And now with the better equipment, the last couple of years we’ve been able to really make good gains on things. With the boat agitating, we’ve been able to pump the lagoons down better.”
David says when the Pork Checkoff folks came out, they seemed most impressed with the high-tech factor on the farm – like the solar panels that generate power on the farm.
“I think they were blown away, to be honest,” David says with a smile. “I’ve been in this operation 33 years and we’ve always tried staying on the higher tech end of it. It’s been a trademark of the operation – to try to stay on the cutting edge of everything.”
David says he’s proud of what his family has done on the farm.
“We’ve been able to work together all these years and bring [the children] up into it. To me, that’s justification right there if you’re able to come in and do that.”
And people nearby are happy to call Stephens Farms neighbors. In fact, some folks who once voiced concerns early on in the farm’s development, have come back to apologize. They have benefited over the years from the Stephens keeping the roads in better shape and open during the snow, as well as better telephone lines, and more.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate,” David says. “We try to take good care of things.”
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World Pork Expo 2017Wed Jun 07, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Wisconsin Farm Technology Days 2017Tue Jul 11, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Empire Farm Days 2017Tue Aug 08, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Dakotafest 2017Tue Aug 15, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
North American Manure Expo 2017Tue Aug 22, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Farm Progress Show 2017Tue Aug 29, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM