RALEIGH, N.C. — Two new technologies for disposing of waste on North Carolina's 2,400 hog farms that were unveiled Monday would cost more than disposal methods now used, said a professor in charge of the research project.
Hog waste now is piped into a clay-lined pit where solids fall to the bottom and liquid at the top is sprayed onto grass fields. In the past decade, some lagoons walls have broken during hurricanes or torrential rains, causing waste to flow into rivers and streams.
Six more technologies still are being evaluated for environmental suitability, professor Mike Williams, director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center at North Carolina State University, said at a news conference.
"All of the information in this process has been based on science and economics, good science and economics by a group of researchers," Williams said.
North Carolina State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Research Triangle Institute are researching the waste disposal methods.
Williams said the current way of handling wastes costs a farmer $80 for 1,000 pounds of live hogs. The new on-farm technology developed by a company called Super Soils costs $450 for the same amount of waste. Williams said the Sampson County-based company has said it could reduce that cost to $100.
The technology, being used at a 4,400-hog farm in Duplin County, would reduce smell from ammonia in waste, eliminate heavy metals and kill bacteria. Waste is stirred in tanks in a manner similar to during the process instead of being allowed to settle passively in a lagoon.
Another waste disposal firm, Organic Biotechnologies of Clinton, has created a system to turn solid waste into fertilizer after it is trucked to a central site. The fee for handling the waste still is being determined, Williams said.
A search for new technology to eliminate the old lagoon waste handling method was started four years ago when major hog producer Smithfield Foods agreed to spend $15 million on new technologies.
Smithfield and Premium Standard Farms, another hog company, signed an agreement with the state attorney general under which they would implement new technologies on their company-owned farms when it was economically feasible.
But some 2,200 independent farmers, who have contracts with the large companies and own their equipment, must evaluate technologies once the cost if finally determined, said Randolph Carpenter, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council.
"The technologies are good but the economic component is important," Carpenter said. "That is the issue. If there's going to be a change in the process, then we have to look at some assistance for the farmers."
Carpenter emphasized that state and federal regulators have approved the lagoons.
The two hog companies should use the technologies as soon as possible, the environmental groups said.
"The verdict is in. Modern hog waste technologies can eliminate surface and ground water pollution, and can substantially reduce odor, ammonia-caused air pollution and aerial transport of disease-causing microbes," said senior scientist Joe Rudek of Environmental Defense.
The group also said the Legislature should make a moratorium on new lagoons a permanent ban.
Smithfield vice president Dennis Treacy said in a statement that it was too soon to tell if the technologies will satisfy terms of the agreement with the state.
"These technologies not only have to be environmentally superior, but they also must be affordable," Treacy said.