Connecticut Dairy Farmer Turns Manure Into Cash

Connecticut Dairy Farmer Turns Manure Into Cash

Beyond the Freund Farm’s picturesque market, boasting fresh tomatoes and homemade apple pies, is a working dairy farm, complete with a half-acre lagoon brimming with cow manure.
But when owner Matt Freund peers into his manure pool, he doesn’t see smelly waste. He sees 800,000 gallons of opportunity in the form of what he calls “poop pots.”

Through Connecticut’s Agricultural Businesses Cluster, the Freund Farm in East Canaan secured a $72,000 federal grant to continue its development of biodegradable planting pots made almost entirely of cow manure.

“This is an adult version of a science fair project and who would have ever thought that we would be in our 40s doing science fair projects?” asked Freund’s wife, Theresa, who admits to keeping some pots on her kitchen table.

At first glance, the pots could easily be mistaken for peat pots – planting containers made of peat moss – that are all the rage for gardeners because they can be planted directly into the soil.

Similarly, the manure pots do away with plastic, but have the added bonus of instant fertilizer and free nutrients, Freund said. He also claims his pots allow for better root penetration and can stand up to the manhandling that goes along with gardening.

“You have to grow the plant in it, and then you have to sell it to somebody. They have to pick it up, put it in their back entryway for a couple of days, kick it, let the dog pee on it and then you have to put it in your garden,” Freund said. “These pots have to make it through all that.”

Freund, who has filed a patent application, is hesitant to say what machinery he uses or how he made the pots sturdy for fear that someone may steal his idea. The process begins with a screw press that separates the solids from the manure slurry. Once separated, the solids are pressed and molded into 3-inch square pots.

Right now, Freund can only make six at a time, but he’s looking to buy machinery to mass-produce the pots. He’s working with a marketing consultant and plans to hand out prototypes to growers by the time winter rolls around.

In a region where there are more cows than people, the Freunds, who milk 225 cows and own 400 acres of land, say manure is a constant issue for farmers trying to abide by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

“Animal waste is probably our biggest problem when we’re especially close to towns and cities,” said Bob Jacquier, who helps run the family-operated Laurelbrook Farm in East Canaan.

Farms sitting along the Blackberry River are responsible for preventing nitrogen and phosphorous in manure from fouling waterways, especially the Housatonic River, a water source for many Connecticut communities.

Freund’s “poop pots” are an easy solution for too much manure, but they also have a financial benefit for farmers, said Erica Fearn, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau.

“Manure is waste. You can use it as fertilizer, but it has no cash value to the farmer,” she said. “This could change that.”

In California, the country’s top dairy state, more than a dozen farmers are turning to manure to cut down their electricity costs through a methane digester. The waste is mixed with water, poured into a plastic-covered tank and then heated back up. The result is methane. Dairy farmers are piping the methane into a generator and saving thousands of dollars in electricity bills.

One thing the Freunds are happy about is odor control. The methane digester sucks up offensive odors, and the manure pots don’t smell like much of anything at all.

“It turns into a grain-like smell and I don’t know why. It has to do with the process, I guess,” he said. “That’s an added bonus because nobody likes the smell of manure.”

By: Associated Press
Source: Chronicle.Augusta.com

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