SUNNYSIDE — Using worms to help area dairy farmers save money is a concept now being tested in the Yakima Valley.

Area farmers gathered at the J&K Dairy Friday, Aug. 16 to learn how a BioFiltro BIDA® system can recycle dairy wastewater using California red worms.

“Not only can the worms recycle water to be put back on the farm, devoid of nitrates and other solids and particulates, but the leftover worm castings can also be used as compost,” BioFiltro CEO Matt Tolbirt told the audience of dairymen, government representatives and other stakeholders in the project.

It’s a simple filtering system, as anyone who has ever seen a worm colony can attest, Tolbirt explained. The worms aerate the wastewater, creating tunnels and eating the solids, which is filtered through wood chips, letting the cleaned water drain into a clean water tank.

“The whole process uses gravity to let the water filter into the tank,” the CEO remarked.

He said the system targets the water’s nitrogen, suspended solids and removes phosphorus so water can be recycled for such purposes as flushing the dairy alleys or for irrigation.

“A bonus with the filter is added effect in limiting odor, by removing 90 percent of the ammonia in the treated water, helping to clean the air,” Tolbirt added.

WSU biological engineer, Pius Ndegwa is encouraged by the data collected so far, “…but, as with all pilots, more data is needed. ”

“We are pleased with what we are seeing so far,” Ndegwa acknowledged.

Northwest Dairy Association leader like J&K Dairy owner Jason Sheehan are also encouraged by the BioFiltro system.

It’s little expensive to set up, he said “…but I see the value here,” he reported.

The $120,000 pilot project at the J&K Dairy installed in April, was designed to show how the system might work for smaller farms.

“It is already making a noticeable difference,” Sheehan commented.

The original $762,900 WSU pilot took two years to launch as some dairies started the project only to later back out.

“Jason Sheehan was the first one to say ‘okay’,” Russ Davis, President of Organix, which is a distributor of the BioFiltro technology.

Additional system benefits are the cost saving available by eliminating manure transport costs by recycling the wastewater onsite.

“It makes wastewater into reusable water and the worm casting produce a revenue stream as compost,” Davis remarked.

An additional plus for farmers is that by reducing the manure build-up on the farm, there is a potential for clean land freed up for more cows.

The wastewater conversion project has been supported by the state legislature, including Senator Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), who also attended Friday’s open house.

“It is interesting to see how it works,” Honeyford said, adding he supported and pushed for funding to allow for two pilots in the state.

The J&K Dairy project was made possible with a grant from the Washington State Conservation Commission, said Senior Policy Assistant Alison Halpren, who was also complimentary of the pilot.

“We are seeing the value of this system and its many other applications at wineries, restaurants and other industries with wastewater issues,” Halpren commented.

While not directly involved, Darigold is very supportive of and encouraged by Northwest Dairy Association members seeking ways to efficiently manage their nutrients, leading to positive environmental impacts.

Steve Matzen, Senior Vice President of NDA notes that the BioFiltro system illustrates the extent to which NDA members demonstrate leadership in all aspects of their on-farm practices.

Julia Hart can be reached at 509-837-4500, ext. 123 or at jhart@sunnysidesun.com

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