Livestock Water Recycling is one of the four semi-finalists in The Globe and Mail's Small Business Challenge Contest. The 2012 contest drew more than 1,000 entries, and a panel of 9 judges selected the semi-finalists. The winner of the $100,000 business grant will be announced in September. The other three semi-finalists are Forerunner Research Inc., RecycleSmart Solutions Inc. and Northern Canadian Supplies Ltd. To view photos and a multimedia presentation of the four, go to tgam.ca/smallbusiness.
General audiences might cringe watching a video that shows Ross Thurston, president of Calgary-based Livestock Water Recycling Inc., drinking water produced from treated hog manure.
But livestock farmers will probably say, "Genius."
Mr. Thurston's company builds and installs systems that treat hog and cow manure, separating solids and phosphorus, extracting and concentrating ammonium and, finally, discharging water that's clean enough to drink.
This homegrown technology, which Mr. Thurston began developing about eight years ago, has caught the eye of distributors and farms around the world.
"We're getting calls and e-mail from companies that want to sell our product and farmers who want to use it," says Mr. Thurston, who launched his company in 1990 as a two-person operation and now has 20 employees. "We're a small company that's suddenly on the world stage because nobody else has done this the way we have."
While the recycled water – and the sight of Mr. Thurston drinking it – grabs people's attention, it's not the main reason Livestock Water Recycling's treatment system is a game changer, says Mr. Thurston, who studied chemistry and worked at a hazardous waste plant before starting his own business.
What's most beneficial to farmers is the system's ability to reduce manure volume by 85 per cent and to separate its nutrients. Reducing the volume is important, Mr. Thurston says, because farmers have to haul their livestock's manure and apply it to their land as fertilizer for corn, soy and alfalfa crops, which they grow mostly for animal feed.
What they can't use as fertilizer usually ends up stored in reservoirs or "lagoons."
The segregated nutrients produced by Livestock Water Recycling's system also come in handy because they allow farmers to mix fertilizer according to the ratios that best suit their crops. Mr. Thurston says this saves money because farmers usually have to buy commercial fertilizer to compensate for the insufficient nutrient mix of untreated manure.
The nutrients can also be sold to other farmers, Mr. Thurston says. "The system actually creates products that farmers can sell: fertilizer solids, compost, and concentrated ammonium, which is a highly valuable liquid fertilizer."
What the company needs
Livestock Water Recycling has, so far, installed its manure treatment systems at 10 farms in Canada and the United States, with project sizes ranging from $500,000 to $1-million.
Mr. Thurston wants to expand into international markets – the demand certainly exists, he says. But Livestock Water Recycling first needs to build a commercial-grade lab. This will allow it to satisfy regulations governing the import of livestock manure – a necessary step because each farm's manure must be tested prior to the design and installation of the treatment system.
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