Innovative manure handling systems are environmentally friendly

Gloria Hafemeister
A simple manure separation system has been designed by Al Ins Enterprises of Fond du Lac.  Aaron Kuhls was on hand at a manure solutions seminar in Brownsville last week to describe how the system works for all size farms.

BROWNSVILLE –  If Wisconsin is going to remain the number one dairy state, producers need to be innovative and adopt technologies that will help them be productive and environmentally friendly.

The practice of emptying large concrete lined manure pits and land spreading large volumes of liquid has been difficult with wet weather.  Manure handling is costly and field applications can be risky.

With that in mind the Dodge County Land and Water Conservation Department hosted a “Manure Solutions” workshop in Brownsville featuring presentations from several companies that have successfully designed innovative systems for dewatering manure and even ultra filtering it to the point that water can be safely discharged into rivers and streams (with DNR permits).

Bob Bird of the Land Conservation Department is enthusiastic about the latest manure dewatering technology.  While this technology has been around for a while he believes that the technology has improved significantly as companies and farmers find innovative ways to make it work better.

“The Wisconsin dairy industry is here to stay so let’s find a solution because everyone benefits from clean water, including farmers,” he says.

While dewatering systems have been around for a while, Bird believes companies have improved them significantly in recent years and he sees use of these systems as an important way for farms to do their part to protect the environment.

Derek Kuhl of AL Ins Enterprises in Fond du Lac brought his system to the event and described how it has been modified over the years to improve its efficiency.  He said it works best with a gravity flow system and removes enough of the moisture from the manure to allow farms to use the solids for bedding.

He points out that when it is used for bedding it does take some management but by using it for bedding farms do not need to use sand which is hard on manure handling equipment.

In some cases the solids are land spread according to the tested nutrient content and in some cases farms market the solids as a concentrated fertilizer or compost.

He described how the system has been modified over the years to improve wear and tear. The addition of a hydra tower has extended the life of the equipment significantly and a smoke screen eliminated vibration which also initially shortened the life of the equipment.

Two other companies were on hand to describe their systems that go beyond just separating liquid from solids. These companies have designed equipment that also cleans up the liquid to a point that it can be safely discharged into waterways (with permit) or used as drinking water.

Don Heilman of Digested Organics described the system his company has developed for numerous industries including farms. He shared photos of the system his company installed at Majestic Dairy at Sheboygan Falls in 2016.

The company has been using systems like this with success in other industries and in cities. On the farm it reduces manure handling costs, concentrates nutrients and reclaims the clean water.

Farms that are using the system can irrigate the T-water as a good but slightly thicker fertilizer. Because much of the water has been removed they have significantly cut the cost and nuisance of having to haul manure many miles away from the farm.

John Sorenson of Aqua Innovations based in Sharon, Wisconsin described a similar system.

He notes, “Some dairies have limits on how much water they can get out of the ground in their area. This can be an answer to that by cleaning it up and reusing it.”

His company is currently working with a large dairy in Maiden Rock and also with the Dane County consortium. That group includes three farms and also processes waste from other industries. A major partner in that business is Gunderson Hospital.

Bird believes it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment and that the general public should be willing to share in the cost associated with this in order to insure farms’ ability to remain in business in the future.

He feels systems like those described at the workshop would be a good solution for many farms, especially those that are at a point that they need to expand their manure storage capacity or update their handling methods. He points out that one reason some farmers struggled last year is because excessive rain added to the liquid volume in pits that were already full but wet fields prevented farms from emptying the pits and distributing the fertilizer on land.

Noting that the cost is a big factor, he would like to see grants or the development of programs that provide for selling or trading phosphorus credits. Currently the federal NRCS does not have any cost sharing programs for dewatering systems but Bird believes it would be beneficial for farmers to urge the NRCS to consider providing assistance.