Ross Thurston says he’s impressed by modern hog and dairy operations, but thinks there’s one thing missing.
“In these big operations, I see high-level management, high-tech genetics, the most modern feeding and nutrition, up-to-the-minute cropping. Everything is really hightech, except for manure management.”
Thurston is president of Livestock Water Recycling Inc., a Calgary company which has developed a process to separate manure slurry into potable water, a liquid nitrogen solution and high-phosphorus solids.
Last month LWR won the top spot, and a $100,000 cash prize, in the Small Business Challenge contest sponsored by Telus Corp. and The Globe and Mail. The company was among four semi-finalists chosen from more than 1,000 entries.
LWR’s system takes effluent from the barn and runs it through a screw-press system that separates off the larger particles, which contain most of the phosphorus (P) from the manure. Next, fine particulates are removed as sludge by passing the liquid through a special screen system. The sludge contains most of the P. The solids contain organic nitrogen (N), P and most of the organic matter. It’s easy to store and spreads well. It has only a slight odour.
The liquid remaining in the system is purified using a special polymer medium that acts as a filter to separate N and K as a more concentrated solution. The N is stabilized by being converted to ammonium sulphate. This N,K, and S solution can be surface applied as liquid fertilizer or used for “fertigation” through an irrigation system.
A reverse osmosis process delivers potable water that meets drinking water standards and ensures delivery of clean water free of solid particles and pathogens.
The 68×25-foot system must be inside a building to ensure pipes don’t freeze. It draws considerable power — Thurston has seen power costs between $1,200 and $4,000 a month depending on the electricity price. But Thurston says that cost is more than repaid by the value of crop nutrients.
LWR makes its system in three sizes geared to slurry volumes from five million to 25 million gallons, so his customers run hog operations over 600 sows or dairy operations with 800 or more cows. So far, most customers are in the U.S., where livestock operations are bigger and often do not have sufficient land to spread manure. Such operations have to deal with social and environmental controls, but Thurston sees benefits beyond meeting regulations.
“Water is our greatest resource,” he says. “And within 20 years, maybe less, we’re going to value it much more highly. This technology is most of all a water-conservation initiative.”
The water separation also means lower manure application cost, and less compaction because there is less truck traffic and less liquid to apply.
The lower storage volume also allows a farmer to apply nutrients at the ideal time for the crop, or to sell the nutrient solution.
Thurston says the LWR system retains much of the N that would escape from stored slurry. The solids generated in the LWR unit contain 80 to 90 per cent of the P in manure. It can be applied as is or composted to ensure pathogens are inactivated. He says there’s also no smell and no greenhouse gas emissions, and that it allows better management.
“Manure management hassles rob operators of control and time,” he says. “Our system closes the feed-manure-nutrient loop and relieves manure issues so management can focus on key issues.
“Manure management is a truly sustainable environmental initiative. We are able to create value from all parts of the manure. Environmental regulators become allies rather than inspectors.”