DUPLIN COUNTY, N.C. — In the future, hog farms could thrive without the stench and threat to water quality.
Four years ago, state lawmakers asked researchers to find an affordable and environmentally-friendly waste system to replace hog lagoons.
In the future, hog houses may not change much, but where the waste goes after it is flushed out will change.
Rather than flowing into open hog lagoons, new systems now competing for state approval treat the waste on site.
What researchers want to accomplish with hog waste systems is comparable to replacing outdoor facilities with indoor plumbing.
Super Soils Systems USA has a method for separating solids and liquid. The water is what carries that familiar ammonia hog stench.
"The bacteria nitrifying bacteria in these pellets convert the ammonia to nitrate," explained Ray Campbell of Super Soils Systems USA, meaning it kills the smell.
Meanwhile, the solids are dried into an odorless sludge, ready to be made into garden soil or fertilizer.
"These systems are showing very good results," said Dr. Mike Williams, hog waste systems evaluator.
Williams, of North Carolina State University, is charged with approving a system that meets state criteria for environmental standards. It must also be something farmers can afford to install and operate -- one of the biggest challenges.
"Yes, these systems that are showing success are more costly, but I'm very optimistic that we can explore opportunities and ways to reduce those costs and we're doing that," he said.
Orbit Technologies in Sampson County is banking on the value of the methane gas churned out of the hog waste. The idea is that none of the waste should be wasted.
"The fact is we are wasting valuable nutrients and you can't afford to do that," Orbit CEO Alan Paul said.
The question remains whether the solution be something farmers can afford. The approved system or combination of systems will be released next month.