Manure Control & Nutrient Management
Photo: Courtney Baxter
High Tech Alternative for Dairy Waste Treatment
In Search of a Better Way to Handle Manure
One dairy cow produces up to 100 pounds of manure each day, so with Washington’s 400 dairies and 280,000 cows, that adds up to a lot of waste. Even with costly investments in manure management, dairies are criticized as leading contributors to surface and groundwater contamination. Contaminated water is harmful to Puget Sound natural resources including migrating salmon and downstream shellfish beds.
The most common method for managing manure is a storage lagoon. Manure, which is rich with nitrogen and phosphorus—giving it the name “nutrients”—is mixed with water and stored in lagoons. Later it can be used as fertilizer for growing cattle feed and other crops. Problems arise when too much manure is applied to fields and the compounds migrate below the surface. If they go deep enough, they can impact the groundwater and nearby streams. Additionally, if improperly managed, manure stored in these lagoons can contaminate both surface and ground water with nutrients and pathogens.
Inspiration from a Clean Water Project in Africa
In 2017, faced with increased environmental concerns and regulations, Washington dairy farmers were given the opportunity to test new technologies that protect the environment and create new markets for manure by-products.
Public and private funds were allocated to try out several promising technologies, including one developed by engineer Peter Janicki, CEO and founder of Janicki Industries. Janicki grabbed lawmakers’ attention with his work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation converting sewage into drinkable water in Senegal, West Africa. He proposed using this experience and knowledge to create new technology for distilling cow manure.
A collaboration was launched with the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, the Snohomish Conservation District, Washington State University, and Snohomish dairy farmer Jeremy Visser to test Janicki’s “Varcor” system.
Varcor uses a process known as “mechanical vapor recompression” in a new way, to convert manure from Visser’s 3,000-cow dairy into useful byproducts—organic liquid fertilizer, nutrient rich sterile solid material, and water clean enough for cattle to drink. The Varcor system will be operational for testing in Q1 2021 on Visser’s farm.
Protecting the Environment and Saving Our Farms
Varcor has the potential to transform manure management on dairy farms. Using this technology, farmers will comply with environmental regulations while accruing significant cost savings and additional revenue streams. Multiple benefits include:
- Cleaner environment. Varcor’s goal of “zero discharge” dairies will keep waste out of ground water and waterways. Additionally, the technology helps with greenhouse gas reduction by reducing the need for methane producing storage lagoons and the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers.
- Cost savings for farmers. Energy savings will result from reductions in electrical and fuel use in traditional manure management activities such as wastewater storage, agitation, pumping, and truck hauling. Reclaimed water can be used for cattle and crops. High quality liquid nitrogen fertilizer can be used on the farm or sold to generate revenue.
- Supporting Washington farms. According to the USDA, there were 1,021 dairy farms in Washington in 1997 and just 387 in 2018. New technologies like Varcor will help farmers improve their efficiency and address regulatory requirements—critical support for keeping Washington dairy farms in business.
Manure is an organic material. Why is it harmful?
Livestock manure is a great organic fertilizer, but when it’s not controlled, it can be a source of water pollution. When it travels downstream, bacteria from manure can make shellfish unfit to eat and water unsafe to drink or to swim in. Nutrients from manure promote excessive algae and aquatic plant growth in rivers and streams. As the plants decay, they deplete oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need.