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Pace Slow in Finding Lagoon, Sprayfield Alternatives

In total, 18 technologies will be tested, both individually and in combination, to find an environmentally superior technology (EST), which may become the next generation of manure management for producers. To test the ESTs at commercial-scale on farms, North Carolina State University (NCSU) officials must negotiate contractual agreements between the technology suppliers and the pork production facility

In total, 18 technologies will be tested, both individually and in combination, to find an environmentally superior technology (EST), which may become the next generation of manure management for producers.

To test the ESTs at commercial-scale on farms, North Carolina State University (NCSU) officials must negotiate contractual agreements between the technology suppliers and the pork production facility owners and operators. State Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) permits also must be secured to test the ESTs, but must also allow operators to switch back to the lagoon and sprayfield system if needed.

“We will not be completed with all 18 technologies by the July 2002 deadline,” says Mike Williams. “This issue will not be closed on July 25, 2002.”

Williams is the head of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center at NCSU. He has been appointed the designee in the agreement that required Smithfield provide $15 million for research to find ESTs for handling swine manure. A similar $2.5 million agreement was reached between North Carolina and Missouri-based Premium Standard Farms (PSF) in October 2000.

As designee, Williams will identify alternative technologies that show promise, direct university and on-farm research projects to test them and ultimately, pick the best EST to replace the lagoons and sprayfield system.

Under the agreement, commonly referred to as the “Smithfield agreement,” company-owned farms have three years to implement the new technology.

Advisory Panels

Williams is advised by two panels, totaling 21 people, all pork industry and environmental services stakeholders. They have identified the technologies and will help with the final decision-making process.

In addition, a team of NCSU, Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers will determine the operational feasibility of each technology.

A team of agricultural economists from NCSU will analyze the economic feasibility. The economics will be figured into capital costs and operation cost on a per animal basis, Williams says.

Working Hard

All parties involved have been working hard and have made progress, according to James P. “Ryke” Longest Jr., special deputy attorney general for the state of North Carolina.

“The timeframe is ambitious and there are many people working hard on it,” Longest says. “Under the agreement, the companies are required to take certain steps very rapidly.”

Those steps which have been completed include adoption of environmental management systems, identification and closure of abandoned lagoons on company-owned farms and proposal of measures to protect the waters of the 100-year floodplain and wetlands.

“One of the provisions of the agreement requires Smithfield and its subsidiaries to obtain approval of environmental management systems interpreted under the ISO 14001 standard,” Longest adds.

ISO 14000 is a group of standards relating to environmental management created by the International Organization of Standardization in Geneva, Switzerland. Carroll's Foods has completed the certification, while Murphy-Brown, LLC, (a new company including Brown's of Carolina and Murphy Farms) is working toward the certification, Longest says. PSF is also developing its ISO 14001 program.

Progress Report

Williams reviewed the progress made to date, with the following technologies:

  • In-ground ambient temperature anaerobic digester/energy recovery/greenhouse vegetable production;

  • High temperatures thermophilic anaerobic digester and energy recovery system;

  • Solids separation/constructed wetlands system;

  • Sequencing batch reactor system;

  • Upflow biofiltration system;

  • Solids separation/nitrification-denitrification/soluble phosphorus removal/solids processing system;

  • Belt manure removal and gasification system to thermally convert dry manure to a combustible gas stream for liquid fuel recovery;

  • Ultrasonic plasma resonator system;

  • Manure solids conversion to insect biomass for value-added processing into animal feed and oil system;

  • Solids separation/reciprocating water technology system;

  • Micro-turbine co-generation system for energy recovery;

  • Belt system for manure removal;

  • High-rate second-generation totally enclosed Bion system for manure slurry treatment and biosolids recovery;

  • Combined in-ground ambient digester with permeable cover/aerobic blanket/BioKinetic aeration process for nitrification-denitrification/in-ground mesophilic anaerobic digester system (on three farm sites);

  • Dewatering/drying/desalinization system; and

  • Solids separation/gasification for energy and ash recovery centralized system (on three farm sites).

Eleven of the technologies are combined into nine farm-scale systems, mostly on Smithfield or PSF contract farms. The rest are being carried out at a number of NCSU field laboratory sites.

More than 100 proposals were reviewed by an ad-hoc committee to identify the technologies for testing, Williams says.

The producers can run some of the technologies, while service providers would operate others.

“I was very pleased that the competitive review process yielded this diverse mix,” he says. “I think we need the option of simplicity and the option of complexity.”

Complex Issues

Longest and Williams agree that the issues surrounding the pork industry, the environment and the agreements are complex, but not impossible.

“The people from the universities, the government agencies, the private sector and the farmers themselves will solve this problem,” Longest says. “Everyone is doing their part.”

The politics surrounding the hot-button hog industry also play a big role, Williams says.

“The policy issues, the social issues, as well as the economic issues, may play a more challenging role than the technical issues,” he says.

Williams cautions against making quick decisions and says continued research and thoughtful analysis will continue beyond the July 25, 2002 deadline.

“The stakes are too high for everyone who is involved and/or impacted by this initiative for premature decisions to be made,” he adds.

Discovery Begins in Waterkeeper Lawsuits

A U.S. District Court in Greenville, NC, ruled on Sept. 20 that two of the Waterkeeper Alliance lawsuits can move forward into the discovery phase, in which the parties begin exchanging information related to the case.

The lawsuits were filed against Smithfield Foods and subsidiary Brown's of Carolina and focus on pork production facilities in Jones County, NC.

The Water Keeper Alliance is headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and has assembled a legal team of 19 attorneys from 13 private firms. The alliance has filed state and federal environmental lawsuits against leading pork production companies that use lagoons and sprayfields for manure management.

“We are very pleased with the court's order,” says Nicolette Hahn, senior attorney for the alliance. “It allows all of the Waterkeeper claims against Smithfield to proceed and reinforces that concentrated animal feeding operations need to obtain Clean Water Act permits.”

Smithfield has a company policy prohibiting comment on pending litigation.

District Court Judge Malcolm Howard also ruled that if the farms are CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), then sprayfields can qualify as a point source of pollution without a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which may constitute a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuits were filed Feb. 28 and allege that Smithfield Foods and its subsidiaries violate the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Attorneys for Smithfield and Brown's of Carolina filed motions to dismiss the suits on May 4. The case was argued before the district court on Sept. 6.

In March, a Wake County Superior Court judge dismissed two other lawsuits, which named Smithfield's Joseph Luter III, Wendell Murphy, Sr. and Wendell Murphy, Jr. as defendants.

The lawsuits sought to use the Public Trust Doctrine, which says that the state's rivers are public resources held in trust for the benefit of all North Carolinians. Those dismissals have been appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Gretchen Schlosser