Cleaning up manure

Gloria Hafemeister

Sheboygan Falls — If Wisconsin is going to remain the No. 1 dairy state, producers need to be innovative and adopt technologies that will help them be productive and environmentally friendly.

Much of this technology costs a great deal of money, so farm families are beginning to work together to combine their resources and talents to be able to incorporate state-of-the art systems.

Majestic Crossing Dairy, near Sheboygan Falls, is a story of four families coming together. All from Sheboygan County, the Strauss, Herzog, Wedepohl and Radloff families formed Majestic Crossing Dairy in 2011.

They milk 2,000 cows on two separate facilities about 4 miles apart. They operate 3,400 acres to feed those animals and provide a place for the nutrients the cows produce.

When they recently hosted the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin dairy technology tour, Majestic Crossing Dairy showed off a new manure separation system that concentrates the nutrients and separates most of the liquids from the solids.

Dean Strauss,  managing partner and co-owner of the Majestic Crossing Dairy, described the system he uses that he says is the right fit for his farm, allowing the families to concentrate key nutrients for crops into substantially less volume at a competitive operating cost.

“The goal of the system – Digested Organics – is to harvest energy, capture nutrients and reclaim water,” said Dean Strauss.

Strauss shared, with the large gathering, details about how the system works, bottlenecks they have worked through and what they learned about water reclamation and the regulatory process.

After working out all the details of the system, they have successfully reached the point where they are permitted to discharge the clear water, removed from the system and treated, to a nearby river.

Tests reveal the water is so clean that it could actually be used as drinking water, and PDPW tour participants had the opportunity to taste the result of their system.

The system, Integrated Manure Management System (IMMS) is the first of its kind and works much like city sewer systems. With the ability to process 20,000 gallons of manure per day, this system harvests energy through biogas generation, concentrates nutrients for more targeted crop use and reclaims clean water for use and surface water discharge.

Strauss said by removing the water they are able to save a lot of money and wear and tear on roads by not hauling water with the nutrients to their fields.

He also pointed out that farmers do not make money on the power they generate as European farms are able to do. If they would create electricity with the digester, they would need to invest in and maintain a generator, but the power would be sold back into the grid at a very low rate. They then purchase power from the utility at the regular rate.

If they chill the gas to take off moisture, they will be able to draw heat off to heat their dairy facilities.

“We had been looking at manure treatment systems for years, but we just couldn’t get comfortable with either the technology or the costs involved,” Strauss said. “This seemed like the right fit for our farm. We like the fact that it’s highly automated, has a small footprint and is environmentally sustainable  — something that is important to us and to our community”.

Bob Levine, CEO  of Digested Organics, described how the manure management system separates solids from liquid and cleans the liquid in a suitable manner that it can be reused or discharged.  At right is Dean Strauss of Majestic Crossing Dairy.

How it works

Bob Levine, CEO of the Michigan based Digested Organics, described how the system works. It has been around for a long time but only now is it being adapted for use on dairy farms.

The process starts with the removal of the fiber using a standard screw press. Fibers are pulled out before the manure enters the digester, which is different than many digester systems. This pulls out 40 percent of the phosphorus.

The plug flow digester has the capacity to store digested manure five days, a much shorter time than most digesters.

“The system is a combination of the high efficiency/low residence time anaerobic digester with a highly automated ultra filtration and reverse osmosis system that concentrates nutrients into 30 percent of the original manure volume while recovering about 70 percent of the original volume as clean water,” Levine described. “That water is suitable for drinking water for the animals, washing and flushing on the farm, or direct discharge to local waterways (with the appropriate DNR permit).”

While one of the farms on the tour used polymers in combination with reverse osmosis, the IMMS does not use polymers and chemical flocculants to remove solids from manure; instead, it relies on a patented ultrafiltration system that can reliably remove at least 99 percent of the suspended solids and phosphorus.

A biomedia material resembling ribbons attracts the bugs that help break down the material.

The concentrated nutrients can also be dried or pelletized for easy storage or transport out of the watershed.

Levine pointed out this system is designed in a way that it can work on farms ranging from 200 cows to thousands of cows.

With over two dozen projects proposed across Wisconsin, Vermont and Michigan, the project at Majestic Crossings is Digested Organics’ first fully integrated commercial facility.

Participants on the PDPW tour came from several states, and one came from the Netherlands to learn more about the various technology that is coming out to help farmers make the best use of their manure in an environmentally friendly way.

The participants said they like participating in PDPW events like this because of the networking opportunities that go along with it and because PDPW is always up to date on state-of-the-art technology and a leader in helping their members learn about the newest technology available to assist them with improving production and management on their farms.

This is the third in series of stories on th PDPW dairy innovation tours.