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  • Writer's pictureTim Heffernan

Addressing Dairy Sustainability through the Smart Application of Technologies

In a prior Blog Post, I talked about factors associated with Dairy Sustainability. The first two factors discussed were Animal Welfare and Environmental Impact. I’m going to discuss how existing technologies can be applied to strengthen Dairy Sustainability. I’m also going to make the case that the smart application of new and developing technologies does not need to be an either or scenario. With respect to Clean Wave’s technologies and our business model, we think it should be a no-brainer.

Clean Wave’s two core technologies can be applied to eliminate solids discharge to dairy waste separation lagoons. This eliminates greenhouse gas emissions, methane and Nitrous Oxides from the lagoon, resulting in an almost 69% reduction in GHG emissions from the dairy. In addition to the clean water, the system produces three other products.

  1. Extracted fiber from the dairy wastewater that can be used for bedding or recycled into potting mixes replacing sphagnum peat moss;

  2. An organic matrix containing most of the nutrients of the dairy wastewater. This can be land applied for nutrient recovery, it can also be supplemented with additional nitrogen through the use of other existing technologies. This rich organic blend can be land applied or can blended into composts or soil amendments;

  3. A nitrogen enhanced natural Zeolite mineral which when land applied provides a slow release nitrogen source and also can retain up to 30% of its weight in water;

While the potential uses at some dairies will be more expansive than others, let’s look at an example and how we might address dairy sustainability through the application of Clean Wave’s technologies. This will also describe the value proposition to the dairy.


The dairy is a 6,000 cow dairy in south central Idaho. It has a digester that was installed by an energy company and the dairy gets 50% of the separated fiber under their contract with the energy company. The digester reduces the lagoon emissions by 70% and the Dairy GHG footprint by 49%. The dairy feeds a mix of grain, silage and hay. It sells its milk in hundred pound units, known as Hundredweights and recorded as CWT. It uses this fiber as a low cost bedding. But it contains 78% moisture coming off the 5-Roller Press separator and has significant nutrients. The wet bedding also heats up after placement in the beds. This creates an ideal environment for bacterial proliferation, including pathogenic bacteria. So this bedding results in higher levels of mastitis in the dairy herd.

Somatic cell counts (SCC) are used to determine milk quality and as an indicator of clinical mastitis. Somatic cell counts under 100,000 cells/ml typically reflect quality milk and earn the highest milk prices. However SCCs over 200,000 reduce milk production rates by as much as 5.5 pounds per cow per day. This example dairy has a SCC of 394,000 cells/ml. This results in a reduction in total milk production by 13%. At this location and time, let’s say the price with a SCC of under 100,000 cells per ml is $ 20.00 per CWT. This dairy averages 70 pounds per day of milk produced by each healthy cow in active production.

If all 6,000 cows were in healthy production, the dairy would produce 420,000 pounds of milk per day. This would generate gross revenue of $ 84,000 per day. But since milk production is down 13% due to illness, the dairy only produces 365,400 pounds per day. The dairy averages a SCC of 394,000 which it sells for $19. 43/CWT. So the daily milk sales bring revenue of $ 70,997.22. But this is only one economic cost of mastitis. This dairy also has to pay higher costs for veterinary care and medicines, and incurs higher labor costs since the cows must be removed from the general population and milked separately. Long term mastitis problems also result in premature culling which represent a high cost of replacement. So for dairy with a mastitis problem, which is common, expenses are significantly higher and their revenues lower.

This dairy enters into a contract with Clean Wave and starts processing the dairy wastewater and separating a lower nutrient fiber which is efficiently dried to an optimal moisture of 58%. Over time, the drier and lower nutrient value of the bedding lowers SCCs from 394,000 to 93,600. The milk quality premium raises the price from $19.43 to $20/CWT and the percentages of total possible milk production increases to 98%. Milk production increases to 4,116 CWTs per day. Milk revenue increases to $82,320 per day, a revenue increase of $11,322.78 per day.

The dairy also never has to clean out its lagoons again and these lagoons eventually become aerobic ponds. Published studies suggest that eliminating solids discharge to dairy lagoons will save a dairy well over $0.01 per gallon. This dairy produces 210,000 gallons of wastewater per day. Assuming the dairy is saving $0.012 per gallon, this saves the dairy $2.520 per day. The dairy’s projected cost of operation of the system is $1.010. So the dairy saves more than twice what they spend, resulting in a strong negative cost of operation.

The dairy receives 50% of the fiber under their contract with the energy company running the digester. But the dairy only needs 37%. Since it is in a good geographic location for fiber recycling, Clean Wave offers to purchase the remaining 13% of the fiber for use as a sphagnum peat moss replacement in container blends. This represents 68.4 cubic yards per day at $3 per cubic yard, for a revenue increase of $205.14 per day.

So in this example, through the smart application of technologies, the dairy is making an additional $11,527.92 per day and saving an additional $2,520 per day for $ 14,047.92 of additional revenue per day. Their expenses increase by a total of $3,147.34 per day for a net benefit of $ 10,900.58 per day. What this example is intended to show, is that through the smart application of new and developing technologies, this example dairy can become significantly more sustainable and significantly more profitable while reducing its negative environmental impact.

Choosing to do better, can not only be the right thing to do, but it can also increase revenues and decrease costs. So through the application of Clean Wave’s technologies, dairies can address four of the five components of dairy sustainability. And with future technology development, this last component, Supply Chain Sustainability can also be addressed.


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