Jeremy Visser

Stanwood dairy farmer Jeremy Visser stands below a revolving carousel that is equipped to milk over 2,000 cows during a tour Monday of his farm. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

Like most dairy farmers, Natural Milk owner Jeremy Visser uses lagoons to store cow manure. He’ll manage the nutrients in the manure, then put them back in the soil along with fertilizer he buys to grow more grass to feed his cows.

But soon, Visser will have another option thanks to Janicki Bioenergy.

The Sedro-Woolley company plans to build an experimental dairy processor on Visser’s Stanwood farm that will turn cow manure into clean water while producing fertilizer as a byproduct.

“This could be quite a holy grail for dairy technology,” Visser said.

The concept behind the idea is similar to the company’s Omniprocessor, a machine designed to help impoverished countries by turning sewage into clean drinking water.

This new dairy processor, however, will use different technology, said Janicki Bioenergy’s Jeff Graf.

The most noticeable difference is that the dairy processor will produce solid and liquid fertilizer as byproducts, rather than the ash produced by the Omniprocessor.

Graf said the water produced would likely be suitable for animals to drink, but not for humans. It could be used in different ways, such as for irrigation or for the cows to drink.

The fertilizer, he said, could be used by the farmer or sold.

“It could be an organic product that is sold to other farmers as a potential way of generating revenue,” Graf said.

Among those partnering with Janicki Bioenergy to put the processor on Visser’s farm are the Dairy Farmers of Washington, the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians and the Snohomish Conservation District.

The goals of the partners include producing clean water to benefit the environment and reducing the farm’s carbon footprint.

In a news release, Stillaguamish Chairman Shawn Yanity said, “The history and future of the Stillaguamish Tribe is bound to the Stillaguamish River and its tributaries. We are honored to join with dairy farmers on this project and look forward to seeing the results of our joint endeavor.”

Visser said the project could be helpful to him in a number of ways.

For instance, if the processor works as billed, he might not have to buy fertilizer ever again. He could also lower his environmental impact by not having to transport materials, and could use his lagoons for storing rainwater rather than manure.

“Being a good steward of our natural resources is of importance to dairy farmers because we have that holistic relationship with the land, water and all our resources,” he said. “The goal I’m after is healthy soil, healthy water and healthy people.”

Dairy Farmers of Washington has invested $250,000 in the project. That money will go toward research to determine if the technology can be made available for other farms.

The other stakeholders applied for a $3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If awarded the money, Janicki Bioenery will move forward with building and installing the processor on Visser’s farm this year.

If the processor is successful, the company could build another one on Visser’s 2,000-cow farm six months later. Each will be able to handle manure from about 1,000 cows.

Graf said the company has received interest in the project from other farmers, including some from Skagit County. Each processor would cost $500,000 to $750,000, Graf said. The company is looking at ways to make it easier for farmers to buy the processors.

“We are trying to put together ways for farmers to be able to use Department of Agriculture funding sources to buy equipment like this for their farms,” he said. “There is a lot of good work being done at the federal, state and local levels.”

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