ADDRESSING DIVERSE NEEDS
NEW PRODUCTS, TECHNOLOGY AND MARKETS ARE SHAPING WESTERN AGRICULTURE
Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
SPREADING THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
Manure lagoons are a stinky problem that dairy producers have tried to treat unsuccessfully for years. But now some farmers in the West are using technology that cleans up the ponds and turns them into "nutrient recycling centers."
Natural Aeration Inc., Reardan, Wash., produces the CirCulator, which brings "complete circulation to manure lagoons," according to Gary Wegner, CEO of the six-year-old company. The machine creates an oxygen-rich system that encourages aerobic bacteria to do the work they were created to do.
"An aerobic system keeps more nitrogen and sulfur in the system. As a result, livestock producers preserve nutrient value while controlling odors," says Wegner, who has worked as a nutrient management consultant for 12 years and uses recycled nutrients on his own family farm.
The CirCulator works like this: It provides oxygen to manure lagoons by pulling liquid straight up from the bottom of a pond to the surface. At the surface, the oxygen-depleted water naturally takes in oxygen. The system supports aerobic bacteria that require oxygen to live. The byproducts of the metabolism of aerobic bacteria are simply water and carbon dioxide, so there's no odor. They do not produce ammonia or hydrogen sulfide (that turn into sulfuric acid), which means odor is reduced. "Producers will receive fewer complaints from neighbors about bad smells," Wegner says.
The bio-liquid (a nutrient-rich water) produced in the recycling ponds is a valuable commodity. "The bio-liquid can be used on a farm to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, which adds value and quality to crop production programs," Wegner says. "The average dairy farm can conserve $50 to $60 worth of fertilizer value per cow per year."
Livestock producers also will have cleaner flush water. "Reducing the amount of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide passing through a barn will bring a positive effect to animals' health," Wegner says. "They'll reduce respiratory problems, mastitis and hoof disease."
Wegner points out that the system will help livestock producers meet new federal quality regulations for environmental protection. The system creates a product that is like water and can be pumped easily. "The bio-liquid can be applied in an appropriate manner without causing problems to a producer's irrigation systems," he explains.
The CirCulator currently is being utilized on dairy farms in six Western states. But the system also is ideal for pork farms, food processors, industrial uses, municipalities and golf courses, Wegner notes.
The company is marketing the CirCulator primarily through sales reps, a handful of farm shows and its Web site, www.circul8.com. "At this point, direct contact is the best," Wegner says. "We need to help people understand this natural process and what a positive effect it has on a livestock producer's entire operation." AM
FARMERS HARNESS THE POWER OF E-COMMERCE
When Tipton, Calif., farmers Ralph and Diane Friend sold 175 tons of hay to a trader, they later discovered that it was resold to a neighbor just 4 miles from their farm. For no more than an hour's work, the trader's profit was $25 a ton. More than ever, the couple knew farmers had little control over the marketing of their commodities, and they decided to do something about it.
The Friends began developing www.horsepower.com, a Web site that allows farmers and processors to sell more than 400 agricultural commodities online. Launched Feb. 8, 2000, the site also offers farmers the ability to request bids on more than 500 categories of farm supplies, equipment, labor and fertilizers, as well as to arrange for rail, sea, air and truck transportation worldwide.
"When we brought the prototype for Horsepower to local farmers, their eyes lit up when they saw the potential boon it meant for their operations," says Ralph Friend, president of Tipton-based Net Horsepower Inc., the parent of Horsepower.com.
Horsepower.com works like this: A farmer looking to buy or sell hay, for example, posts a detailed offer and an asking price. Interested parties respond via e-mail, and confidential negotiations begin. (Horsepower.com is not an auction site.) Horsepower charges a nominal fee for each offer posted and each completed deal.
Monthly subscriptions to the site cost $39.95. To date, 1,050-plus members have posted offers with a potential valuation of more than $12 million. Horsepower also has an agreement with the California Farm Bureau Federation giving its 40,000 farmer-members free access to the exchange.
Horsepower is initially targeting its marketing and advertising efforts to 12 Western states. "We decided to focus in a defined geography because we are introducing a new concept to American agriculture and wanted to make sure we could service and support our customers," says Horsepower co-founder, Diane Friend.
Horsepower licenses its agricultural exchange platform to other agricultural e-commerce Web sites, agricultural cooperatives, trade associations and corporate users. AM
MILKING BYPRODUCTS FOR ALL THEY'RE WORTH
Products made from whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking, are benefiting everyone from babies to health-conscious individuals to bodybuilders. Hilmar Cheese Co. is one cheese manufacturer that is capitalizing on the trends in protein supplement usage.
"Whey is a hot item right now," says Rick Kaepernick, vice president/general manager of whey for the Hilmar, Calif.-based company. "It's an especially good market in the Western United States because there are a lot of consumers interested in staying healthy and using protein supplements made from whey."
What is whey? Milk contains casein and whey protein, among other nutrients. During processing, casein is used to make cheese, while whey proteins remain in the liquid. "We capture the whey liquid and separate whey protein and lactose from it. Then it gets dried into a powder," Kaepernick explains. "It contains a high amount of protein, which can be used in all sorts of food ingredients, including nutritional supplements."
Hilmar's venture into the whey market began nine years ago when the company was looking to grow its cheese business and get the most out of milk during processing. Kaepernick says, "At that point, our whey business consisted of selling liquid whey to dairymen as a food source for cows. We were interested in expanding whey usage to other applications."
The cheese manufacturer found a strategic partner, Proliant (formerly known as AMPC Inc.) of Ames, Iowa, to do the sales, marketing and application work for whey. Hilmar started its protein plant in 1991 and built its first lactose plant in 1994. "We've seen remarkable growth," Kaepernick says. "We're now one of the largest producers of protein and lactose in the world."
Eighty-five percent of the whey protein the company manufacturers is used in the United States, while 15 percent is exported. For lactose, the situation is reversed: 15 percent of the lactose is used domestically, while 85 percent is exported.
Kaepernick points out that there probably is a shortage of whey proteins now, but that, like any trend, it's cyclical. "We have to be careful, because just a year ago the protein markets were at their lowest. So it's important for us to be diversified and continue to look for new markets."
He says Hilmar is in a strategic location because the California dairy industry is continuing to grow rapidly. "We can serve domestic customers and are close to ports for exporting."
Creating a value and demand for whey benefits dairy producers. "Any time we can use a product a lot of different ways, it helps everyone," Kaepernick says. "We're continually striving to find new markets and new opportunities for milk producers." AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.