Company helps farmers get the most out of what they get out of cows

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Monday, May 17, 2010
— Probably since the domestication of the cow, farmers have been spreading manure onto crops.

Long before farmers heard words such as “nitrogen” or “organic matter,” they knew the stuff that came out of the cow was good food for plants.

That hasn’t changed.

What is quickly changing about farms is the size of the operations. When farmers raised one or two or even 100 cows, they had plenty of room to spread manure on their own fields.

But when farms have 500 cows or more—Rock County’s biggest dairy farm will have more than 5,000 cows in the near future—it can get hard to find space for all that manure. That’s especially if a farmer buys feed and doesn’t own farm fields.

That’s where Integrated Separation Solutions comes in.

Designing and building on-farm manure treatment plants is a relatively new gig for ISS and only one part of the company’s portfolio, said Mark Bolin, the agriculture marketing manager at ISS.

ISS, 210 New Factory Road, Sharon, also designs and builds wastewater treatment and water purification systems for food-processing plants and specializes in sugar purification systems.

The company also designs and builds systems for power plants, computer chip manufacturers, and the paper and pulp industries. Different kinds of manufacturing systems require different levels of water purification, Bolin said.

ISS equipment is used in companies across North and South America, Africa and Europe, he said.

Many of the company’s 45 employees have been in the purification industry since the 1970s and have more than 700 years of water purification experience, Bolin said.

In 2003, ISS took that knowledge and jumped into the agricultural waste business.

“We didn’t reinvent the wheel. We perfected it for a new market,” Bolin said.

The power of choice

Farmers spend a lot of money to put quality feed into a cow, and Bolin pitches his equipment as a product that can recoup that expense.

He doesn’t like to use the word “waste” to describe cow manure.

“This is very valuable stuff,” Bolin said. “We like to call it a product.”

In addition to saving money, farmers can limit the liability of waste spills, enhance their farm’s image and feel good about being environmentally sensitive, Bolin said.

ISS engineers and builders create high-tech equipment to meet the different needs of different farmers. The process is mechanical. No chemicals are required to separate the fertilizer from the water.

Water isn’t the only thing that ISS separates from the manure.

Other waste gets mixed in at various times and must be separated, such as bedding, soap from washing equipment and liquid from “foot baths,” which cows walk through to prevent hoof disease. Those products dilute manure but still end up in the storage lagoon, Bolin said.

Rather than diluting the manure, the goal is to keep it pure.

How it works

Farmers can choose up to four steps to separate nutrients from water and contaminants.

Phase one separates most of the solids from the waste stream. Water is heavy. It’s a lot more cost effective to haul just the solid portion of the waste, Bolin said.

Farmers can store the solid manure, spread it on fields or bag it up to sell as compost, Bolin said.

The filtered water goes on to phase two.

Phase two removes the tiny particles that contain phosphorous and spins them into an easy-to-handle lump.

Phosphorous fertilizer is highly regulated by the state. So it’s worth a lot to farmers to be able to set it aside and store it for use only when it’s really needed, Bolin said.

Plus, if phosphorous is sprayed on a field, it can form a coat on plants and on the soil. That prevents farmers from spraying phosphorous during the growing season.

The coat limits plant growth just like dust limits houseplants. And a crust of phosphorous on top of soil can encourage wastewater runoff.

The first two steps remove 65 percent of the phosphorous from the waste.

Again, farmers can use or sell the fertilizer “cakes.” They can inject the concentrated liquid fertilizer into fields or send it on to phase three for further purification.

Phase three results in two products: a green concentrate and a solid-free product called tea water.

Tea water looks like its name. It contains almost no phosphorous and no solids.

That means farmers can run it through an irrigator without worrying about gumming up equipment.

Bolin calls it “fertigation.”

“It’s like rain water with nitrogen added,” Bolin said.

The tea water can be used daily during the growing season, while the concentrate can be stored in smaller pits than would be required without separations.

Rock County’s biggest dairy farm uses this method to handle its manure. This is the second summer that Larson Acres in Magnolia Township will apply tea water to fields.

The 2,668-head dairy uses ISS equipment. And ISS already has started building more equipment to handle the manure created when Larson Acres expands to 5,275 cows and heifers.

Phase 4 allows farmers to pull the last of the nutrients out of the tea water and create “clean water.” This product isn’t for drinking, but it contains no nutrients and can be used to water fields or to clean equipment.

One ISS customer chooses to turn phase 4 on and off as he needs it. For example, he might want to water fields with clean water in the summer when neighbors are outside and might not appreciate the smell of fertilizer.

All the phases give farmers lots of options when they handle and store manure, Bolin said.

“We give our customers the power of choice,” Bolin said. “They can decide where to put it in the right amounts, in the right location, for the right price.”

Last updated: 1:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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