As a dairy farmer in Spring Valley, Wis. (and a former dairy farmer in Minnesota), I’ve learned about my neighbors’ love for the land and their animals. We will celebrate these traits Oct. 12 with National Farmer’s Day.

Farmers know we don’t own the land even if we have a deed with our name on it. It’s just in our hands while we’re using it, and then it passes on to a new generation.

While farming is a business, it’s also an honor to spend our days producing food for other people in an environmentally sustainable way.

Son-Bow Farms, which my wife Kristi and I own, put those values together during the past few years as we installed a new process for handling our manure. Our manure dewatering system, as it is called, not only saved money for our farm but it also reduced wear and tear on local roads, recycled our manure into a dryer compost and reclaimed sand bedding for our cows.

The system we use, designed by Aqua Innovations of Wisconsin, doesn’t use chemicals to pull out the water, so we can deliver the equivalent of distilled water back into area waterways. The combination of Aqua Innovations’ process and our sand reclamation practice is the first and only one of its kind in the world.

Previously, we sent thousands of trucks to put sand-laden manure and semi-loads of water on our fields. Aqua Innovations’ Nu-Way dramatically decreased fuel and labor costs. Nu-Way starts by separating manure solids from liquid nutrients that can be used to add phosphorus or nitrogen to our silage crops that feed our 1,400 cows on our 2,400-acre farm about 50 miles west of Eau Claire (60 miles east of Minneapolis).

With the new technology, the solids can be temporarily stored on the farm or sold to others as fertilizer and the sand can go back into the barns for cow bedding. The pathogen-free liquid nutrients, one high in phosphorus and the other low in phosphorus, can be applied to soil. The process likely saves us more than $500,000 per year. It also allows us to ensure economic viability to area communities by preserving roads, land and business operations.

Experts say the complex manure dewatering system could help farmers in Western states under stiff water restrictions and methane limits. Farmers around the world face similar challenges, and we encourage them to look to Midwest and Wisconsin innovations such as Nu-Way.

I am fortunate to have a background in accounting that helped Kristi and I decide how to pay for the investment with savings over time. We share this information at area conferences and are eager to talk with individual farmers.

Change must come for Midwest farmers. The margins are too thin. There’s no room for error. Farmers have to take great care of our cows and the land. Otherwise, we are out of business.

You can do something to help us in these critical times. We need your patience when you see a manure truck moving slowly down a road. Our manure applications sometimes draw complaints about the smell, but new practices make the duration shorter.

Give us a few days of discomfort to support our good ecological practices. Know that we are just as concerned as others about clean water and runoff. Our families drink the water, too. Our land’s productivity and the comfort of our animals depend on clean water and appropriate fertilizing, which limits runoff into lakes, rivers and wells.

Our family also invites you to contact Explore Minnesota to sign up for a farm tour. Kristi and I know that once you see farmers in action and talk to them about their devotion to the land and their animals, you will understand why an accountant turned himself into a farmer to do the hardest — but most rewarding — work of his life.

 

Jay Richardson is a dairy farmer in Spring Valley, Wisc.