07/27/04 — Researcher unveils two alternatives for treating hog waste

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Researcher unveils two alternatives for treating hog waste

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on July 27, 2004 2:03 PM

RALEIGH -- Two alternatives to treating hog waste have proven to be better for the environment, according to research results released Monday.

Whether farmers can afford them, however, has not been determined.

The test sites for the alternative technologies are in nearby Duplin and Sampson counties.

"They both can do good things environmentally, but we want to learn a lot more about their operational complexities," said Don Butler, director of public affairs with Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc.

Officials are unsure if the alternatives will be affordable for independent farmers or how long it will be before they are used across the state.

Smithfield Foods and Premium Standard Farms reached an agreement with the North Carolina attorney general in 2000, and the companies are funding the $17.3 million research effort. The goal is to identify and evaluate alternative swine waste-management technologies that are more environmentally friendly than the current lagoon and spray field system used to treat waste on most swine farms. The new technologies also produce products like fertilizer.

Butler said the hope is that the new technologies will generate other byproducts that will give farmers in Wayne and other counties revenue.

Frontline Farmers, an organization made up of independent swine farmers, also entered into an agreement with the attorney general in 2002 and agreed to work to develop and implement new technologies.

Dr. Mike Williams, director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center at North Carolina State University, was designated in the agreements to determine whether any of the technologies identified were considered "environmentally superior" to the lagoon and spray fields.

The companies involved in the agreement have three years to switch over their farms to the new technologies once they are deemed environmentally superior. Fifteen technologies are in various stages of evaluation, and the phase-one report concerns eight, including the two that were announced at the Monday press conference.

"We are not at the end of this process, we are at a very significant milestone," said Williams.

These two have been proven to reduce ammonia, odor, nitrogen and pathogens to acceptable environmental standards.

The first, called SuperSoil, treats swine waste in a series of large metal tanks that resemble oil tanks. The test site for this technology is in Duplin County.

Lewis Fetterman, chairman and CEO of the SuperSoil System USA, oversees the facility and said it has been there since 2002. He said they are trying to make the equipment more affordable. Farmers who cannot afford to have a SuperSoil facility built will have the option to use the facility to process the swine waste, he said.

The waste is flushed from pig houses with water, and the solid waste that remains in the liquid is removed using chemicals. Nitrogen and phosphorous, which can cause environmental damage, are then removed from the liquid.

The phosphorous removal produces calcium phosphate, which can be used for fertilizer, and the solid waste can also be used for fertilizer.

The other technology, called ORBIT, uses a vessel, to treat solid waste. The solid waste from SuperSoil goes to the ORBIT facility and the vessels produces sludge, which is separated into liquid and solid portions and used to make fertilizer. The ORBIT facility is in Sampson County.

Williams said the current way of handling wastes costs a farmer $80 for 1,000 pounds of live hogs. The new SuperSoils technology costs $400 for the same amount of waste. This cost could be reduced to $100.

The cost for ORBIT technology is still being evaluated by Williams, and an advisory board made up of government officials, members of the swine industry environmental groups, economists and waste management experts.