Photo: Earthworms like these are the “heroes” helping dairies, wineries, and others deal with wastewater … [+]IMAGE VIA ROYAL DAIRY
Charles Darwin once said of earthworms: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world.” When Darwin said that he probably couldn’t have imagined the interesting new “job” that earthworms are being asked to perform. They play a key role in a technology called “vermifiltration” which was developed by a company in Chile called BioFiltro. This article will describe the experience of two of the early adopters of this technology including a dairy in Eastern Washington and a winery in Northern California.
Dairies and wineries are both quality oriented operations that convert cultivated crops into beverages we enjoy. There are certainly many differences between these two systems, but they share a common environmental challenge – what to do with the wastewater that is unavoidably generated along the way. At a winery a substantial volume of water is used to rinse the fermenters, storage tanks, and barrels to clean out the spent yeast and other solid materials left over at various steps in the winemaking process. At a dairy there is a good deal of liquid waste generated by the cows themselves and also during periodic cleaning of the barns. In both cases this results in a liquid waste or “effluent” that has to be dealt with on-site since it can’t just be sent down the sewer the way that it might be in an urban setting and it certainly can’t be sent directly into rivers. Typically the water is channeled into ponds or lagoons to allow the solid materials to settle out, but during that stage nitrogen can off-gas as ammonia (NH3) which can pollute the air and later be washed down in rain and contaminate bodies of water. Nitrogen and other nutrient escape can lead to “eutrophication” and it is a highly undesirable outcome. As you can probably imagine, there are also odor issues.
Dairies and wineries can use various methods to deal with their solid and liquid waste streams, but vermifiltration is another good option for those sustainability-oriented industries.
Austin Allred is a family farmer in Eastern Washington who has owned and operated the 6,000 cow Royal Dairy for the last 8 years. Allred also grows forage crops like grasses and alfalfa in a 5 year rotation and then his dad grows potatoes in the 6th year. Having a sustainable and climate-action orientation he employs minimum tillage and uses composted manure from the dairy operation to increase soil health and to build soil carbon over time. But like any dairy there is the issue of the “non-stackable” manure and barn flushing water that is being generated throughout the year. Instead of putting this into holding lagoons, Allred now puts it through an […]