Creating clean water on the farm

Gloria Hafemeister

School Hill – Robinway Dairy, located near Kiel, has expanded their business while simultaneously taking strides in reducing their environmental footprint.

Jay and Pam Binversie, farm owners, shared how they are doing so when they hosted the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Nutrient Innovation and Dairy Technology tour earlier this month.

With help from 25 employees, 1,550 cows are milked with 700 steers raised on the same site. The family cares for 1,400 acres of crop land, with 600 of those acres irrigated.

“Our investment in the irrigation equipment was the best investment we have made on this farm,” Jay said.

He explained that not only was it put in place just in time for the 2011 and 2012 drought, but now, as they have completed their new nutrient and water recovery system, it allows them to remove and clean water from their manure and run it, together with water, through the pivot irrigation and water and fertilize living crops when they need it the most.

By using the LWR (Livestock Water Recycling) system, Robinway Dairy is conserving water while strategically applying nutrients.

“Irrigating the alfalfa and corn crops only as they need it has significantly increased yields on both corn and hay," Jay said.

When they irrigate, they apply both the recycled water and concentrated nutrient to crops. They also use mechanical sand separation as a way to reuse their sand bedding.

Jay Binversie describes how his water purification system works to remove nutrients and recycle water from manure.


The LWR system process extracts up to 75 percent of the water from manure while concentrating and segregating nutrients.

As manure liquids flow through the system, solids and fine particles are separated and extracted into phosphorus, potassium, ammonia and organic nitrogen. This gives the farm more control over the nutrient application and minimizes the field work and hauling.

Binversie says the result is clean, potable water; dry solids that are rich in both phosphorus and organic nitrogen; and a concentrated stable ammonium and potassium liquid.

By using this system, the Binversies did not need to increase their lagoon size when they expanded their herd. Those savings were substantial.

Jay said the single biggest challenge they faced when they decided to expand the herd from 1,000 to 1,500 cows was working under the constraints of a shortage of available land that was either close to the dairy or that was contiguous. The price of land that was available had increased such that growing corn on leveraged land would create a net loss.

It has also resulted in a lot less odor around the farm because the water that is returned to the barn for flushing has had much of the nutrients removed.

“We don’t use nearly as much well water with this system," Jay said. "Fifteen to 20,000 gallons of water is reused every day for flushing, washing the deck and for the foot bath.

“We also use the reclaimed water for washing our sand bedding.  It’s amazing how much water is used on the farm, and there is a real advantage to being able to use recycled water.”

He said this system will also save on fuel because solids are hauled to the farther fields that traditionally had less manure and are in need of phosphorus.  The liquid is applied on closer fields where phosphorus levels are lower. Also, because most of the phosphorus has been removed from the liquid, the quantity of nutrients that can be applied increases without concerns about exceeding phosphorus levels.  That means he does not need to purchase nitrogen because he is able to apply more.

Members of the PDPW looked at the system Robinway Dairy uses to separate and clean water from manure in order to reuse it for irrigating crops.

How it works

The system is made up of three components: a front end screen for solid removal; a central separation for fine solid and organics removal; and a reverse osmosis system for water purification.

The system is designed to operate in an automated, reliable fashion around the clock. Controlled from a touch screen or tablet or remotely controlled and monitored through a tablet or PC, the system is managed by three people, with Binversie’s nephew Drew Binversie placed in charge of the operation.

Last year, the system earned Robinway Dairy the Wisconsin Business Friend of the Environment Award for Environmental Innovation.

The company has been in the water recycling business for 25 years and turned its attention to agriculture in 2006.

A display at the Binversie farm illustrated for members of the PDPW how the water recycling system works on Robinway Dairy.  With nutrients removed, water can be used to irrigate fields, and separated solids can fertilize fields further from the farm without hauling water.

Overcoming hurdles

As is typical for PDPW tours and seminars, farmers on the tour were filled with questions.

Binversie said, like any technology, there are challenges. He has met those challenges by working with company representatives all along the way and monitoring it closely.

He pointed to the importance of designating someone on the farm to take charge of the system, monitoring it and maintaining it on a regular basis.

Binversie did a lot of research and touring to see this system and others before making the decision to use it.

“This system would not work for everyone, but for our farm it seemed to be the best solution,” he said.

Testing water is of prime importance, especially when it is being used in the irrigation system.

He has eight pivots and is permitted by the DNR at this time to use the recycled water on three.

This is the second in a series of articles related to the Professional Dairy Producers’ technology tour