Pig Poop: Turning Waste to Wealth

The North Carolina Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation (Foundation) is excited to announce that they have been awarded a 2021 USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to pilot an innovative, low-cost, and mechanized approach to livestock waste management while offering a potential opportunity for producers to earn additional income.  What is something that has been a burden for livestock producers and could now be a boon?  It’s animal poop.  In this case, hog waste.  And, it’s high in phosphorous, which is in great demand across the country but has become an expensive, and limited resource.  With manure-based phosphorous valued at $927 million in North Carolina, the opportunity to “recycle” this nutrient and make it into a valuable fertilizer is within sight.

Through this CIG project, the NC Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation is partnering with Phinite, Inc. and North Carolina State University crop and soil sciences researchers.  Phinite, Inc. has designed a low-cost, solar method to dry swine sludge into a granular product that could be blended into a fertilizer, potentially creating a recurring revenue stream for the producers.  The method requires little human interaction, utilizing a robot to handle and mix the drying sludge.  Phinite predicts that its system can remove two years’ worth of sludge per year, resulting in total lagoon cleanout in 10-15 years and grower payback in just five years.  Three on-farm pilot projects for the innovative sludge drying systems will be conducted in eastern North Carolina.

“By combining sludge drying with the current push to implement anaerobic digestion on swine farms, we’re on the cusp of being able to recycle absolutely everything that comes out of an animal on the farm.  At a profit.  This has the potential to completely transform the sustainability of agriculture,” Jordan Phasey, CEO of Phinite.

“Manure management is a double-edged sword,” Steph Kulesza, NC State assistant professor of nutrient management and animal waste. “Manure is an excellent source of a variety of nutrients, but swine sludge is incredibly high in phosphorus. An organic, slow-release phosphorus source is of great value to phosphorus-deficient agricultural areas, like the Midwest. NC already has a lot of phosphorus in our soils, the nutrients in the bottom of these lagoons could be better utilized elsewhere.”  By partnering with NC State University, the product will undergo field trials (on corn) over two years at two NC research stations on multiple soil types to study extractable phosphorus and soil carbon as indicators of soil fertility and soil health.

“The Foundation focuses on ways that we can support agriculture across North Carolina. We essentially serve as an incubator for conservation ideas that can be applied regionally and beyond in partnership with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other supporting partners,” Foundation Executive Director, Amanda Egdorf-Sand said. “Phinite’s approach is truly exciting as it can serve as a model for similar innovative efforts on other livestock operations. Manure management has been a pain point for many growers, so we look forward to working with NC State and Phinite to offer a transformative approach to managing nutrients that could also help the growers financially.”

Producers are already interested in the new manure management system, but adoption will depend on outcomes and communication. In addition to an industry advisory group, the research study will provide growers with business case evidence, fact sheets, YouTube videos and field days.

Phinite's Jordan Phasey stands in front of a sludge dryer under construction

Phinite’s Jordan Phasey stands in front of a sludge dryer under construction

About USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants

Authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill, Conservation Innovation Grants help develop the tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.

“CIG partners are using the latest science and research to come up with solutions that work for farmers, ranchers and foresters and help ensure the longevity of American agriculture,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby.

Of the 77 proposals submitted, USDA-NRCS will award $15,000,000 million in 2021 CIG national funding for 19 projects to drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation. The program inspires creative problem-solving that boosts production on farms, ranches and private forests; they ultimately improve soil health, grazing lands, and organic systems. The Innovations in Animal Waste Management grant addresses the USDA’s nutrient management priority.

About the Foundation

The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to promote, protect and improve North Carolina soil and water resources for the enhancement of economic growth and stewardship of the natural environment.  This mission is carried out utilizing three key priorities: Improving the Environment, Educating the Citizens, and Building Conservation Capacity.  In partnership with North Carolina’s 96 Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other conservation partners, the Foundation, founded in 1999, has raised over $16 million and leveraged an additional $21 million for piloting innovative conservation efforts in North Carolina.

Visit www.ncsoilwater.org to learn more.  Stay connected to our work through our quarterly newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.