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Waste to Water: Hoosier farm installs new tech

Donald & Cheri De Jong own Natural Prairie Dairy Farms in Newton County. (photo provided)

NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Newton County dairy farm is using what its owner calls a game-changer in how animal waste is treated and converted into co-products with value, including water.

Natural Prairie Dairy in Lake Village has installed a system that transforms cow manure into dry organic fertilizer, an ammonia-based liquid fertilizer for crops, and clean water that could eventually be used for livestock.

“It’s H2O. It’s water,” said Donald De Jong, the dairy farm’s owner.

The Texas-based dairy farmer purchased land in northwest Indiana four years ago to expand his company into the Midwest.  Following a three-year-long conversion process, the pastureland was certified organic, allowing the company to produce organic milk.

Natural Prairie’s largest customer is Michigan-based Meijer supermarkets.

“They were looking for an organic solution. We’re their organic supplier,” said De Jong.

The farm started milking its herd of 2,000 cows in February with plans to increase the herd to 3,200 cows. The farm was looking for ways to lower its environmental impact with its ever-expanding herds in Indiana and Texas.

De Jong collaborated with Washington-based Sedron Technologies to create a system they call Varcor.

The system uses mechanical vapor compression, a thermal process that kills pathogens. The patented technology removes ammonia from the liquid stream, creating a liquid fertilizer. The remaining solids are dried and turned into organic, soil nutrients.

“The Varcor will revolutionize agriculture as it provides a clean water supply and natural fertilizer that’s economically viable and not dependent upon the petrochemical industry,” said De Jong.

Sedron developed similar technology to convert human feces. Billionaire Bill Gates in 2019 taste-tested the water converted from the waste.

While the water produced at Natural Prairie is not yet ready for human or animal consumption, De Jong says the technology is close.

“Not yet, but it’s going to happen. It’s new, so all of our regulatory agencies are going ’Wow, this is a game-changer,’” said De Jong.

The farm pumps the treated water into existing manure lagoons, which the state of Indiana allows. De Jong says the smell often associated with large animal production facilities will also be diminished.

“We’ll use it for irrigation right now. That’s underutilizing it for sure,” said De Jong. “We have every intention as we get through all the hurdles to put it in for the cows and just like regular water. “

The third-generation farmer says in water-short Texas, the system will allow it to cut water usage by having a closed-loop system.

De Jong said the system will create more beneficial coproducts than it will be able to put back into their land, creating another business opportunity.

“Will be exporters of the dry fertilizer product. We’re hoping to develop a big market with that,” said De Jong.

Natural Prairie Dairy CEO Donald De Jong explained how the system works and how it could change the dairy industry.
De Jong said the system will help reduce water usage on dairy farms.