Dust busters: Trees, technology help Iowa Select Farms control odors
WILLIAMS — What if odor from swine confinement barns could be reduced by 65 percent or more?
It’s possible with trees and technology, according to Iowa Select Farms, which is incorporating evergreens and innovative electrostatic fencing at its new 4,800-head Hale Finisher Farm near Williams.
“Odor compounds don’t travel far on their own,” said Dr. John Stinn, environmental projects manager for Iowa Select Farms, who spoke on May 24 during the site’s open house, which attracted hundreds of guests to Hamilton County. “If we knock the dust down, we knock the odor down.”
The odor associated with pork production is often transported on dust particles from hog barns. Planting trees and shrubs planted around hog facilities helps reduce odor, improve site aesthetics and helps control snow deposition. Iowa State University research shows that trees can help reduce swine barn odors by 10 to 15 percent.
The Hale Finisher Farm, which is built on land owned by Williams-area farmer Al Anderson, is surrounded by rows of red twig dogwood shrubs, along with techny arborvitae trees spaced 10 feet apart. Drip irrigation offers a simple way to water these hardy, attractive evergreen trees, which will grow 10 to 15 feet tall.
Living windbreaks aren’t unique to this site. Iowa Select Farms is partnering with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) through the coalition’s Green Farmstead Partner program, ensuring that each new company-owned, tunnel-ventilated swine finishing barn built will include windbreaks of trees and shrubs to help control odor.
“Trees are good neighbor enhancers,” said Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, who spoke during the open house. “We’re proud to have 26 nursery partners involved with the Green Farmstead Partner program, which has planted approximately 70,000 trees since the program started in 2009.”
New technology boosts odor control
Trees aren’t the only odor-control solution at the Hale Finisher Farm. Electrostatic fencing positioned outside the fans on the north side of the barns is designed to reduce the amount of dust leaving the barns and lower odor levels.
Powered by 30,000 volts, the fencing has an electrostatic charge that slows down the air coming out of the fans in each hog barn. The technology knocks down dust in the air between the fencing and the barns.
“This system is similar to scrubbers in coal-fired plants or ionizers in air purifiers,” Stinn said. “It’s common technology, but it hasn’t been used in this way before.”
It takes less electricity than the energy required to run a lightbulb for a day to power the electrostatic fencing, which has a lifespan of 10 years, according to the manufacturer. Rain will help clean the electrostatic fencing, although it may need to be washed periodically.
“We think this technology may help lower odor levels by 50 percent or more,” said Stinn, who looks forward to studying this in the months ahead.
Swine production drives the economy
Manure from the Hale Finisher Farm will help fertilize crops near the barns. The site will generate enough manure each year to fertilize 600 acres in a corn-soybean rotation. Along with macronutrients, swine manure provides micronutrients and organic matter for the soil, noted Tim Hamilton, environmental services manager for Iowa Select Farms.
He added proper nutrient management is important, noting that Iowa Select has been feeding phytase in its swine rations for 10 years. Phytase increases the availability of phosphorus in the diet, so less phosphorus is excreted in the manure.
“We don’t want to apply more nutrients than the crop needs,” Hamilton said.
Iowa Select Farms values the nutrients in the manure from the Hale Finisher Farm at $157.16 per acre. These nutrients will replace $28,473 worth of commercial fertilizer each year, or $569,460 over 20 years.
This 4,800-head site will generate approximately $403,000 in local economic impact, according to Dr. Dermot Hayes, a professor of economics at Iowa State University. This includes grain demand.
Pigs produced on the Hale Finisher Farm will consume 496 acres of corn 471 acres of soybeans each year.
Consuming high-quality, home-grown Hamilton County resources is just part of the equation. The Hale Finisher Farm also showcases the latest technology to save resources, from energy-efficient LED lighting in the barns to wet-dry feeders that help Iowa Select Farms reduce water usage by 20 percent.
Systems that enhance animal well-being are also visible on the Hale Finisher Farm. The barns’ design allows caretakers to break down the pen gates as the hogs grow. Pigs are free to roam and have easy access to feed and water. Each year, the pigs raised on this farm will produce 8.2 million servings of pork.
Adopting solutions from technology to trees to produce safe, nutritious food is part of being a good neighbor, said Iowa Select Chief Operating Officer Noel Williams.
“We want to do things the right way and be responsible members of our rural communities,” said Williams.