Indiana firm turns manure into bedding

By Leah Call
MAA
Indiana-based innovator Roland Kessler can turn manure into money. Well, not literally, but he can convert what is typically one of the biggest challenges on a dairy farm into a cost-saving, environment enhancing, revenue-producing, value-added product.
Over the last 10 years, Kessler and his partners have perfected the technology, which converts dairy waste into a product that can be used as livestock bedding or as a marketable soil amendment for use in the horticulture industry.
While there are other waste-converting technologies on the market, Eco-Tek LLC says it sets itself apart because of its efficiency and its business model.

“We have developed a unique diversified business model targeted at two complimentary and synergistic agriculture markets – dairy and horticulture,” said Kessler, who has experience in both.
On the agricultural front, Kessler spent five years at John Deere Corp. in the software and precision agriculture group. There, he also became interested in the nursery/greenhouse side of the business where soil amendments are used. After that, he worked for Netherlands-based Hoogendoorn, which markets automation solutions for greenhouses. Kessler now applies his expertise at Eco-Tek.
Eco-Tek sells equipment separating dairy solids from manure to create an end product that can be used as bedding or sold as an amendment to supplement or replace the use of sphagnum peat moss for growing vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.
The two-part waste conversion process involves putting manure through an Eco-Tek Solid Recovery Unit, which separates the solids from the liquid. The liquid can then be used to fertilize crops. The solids are further processed in an Eco-Tek Solid Treatment Unit at high temperatures — achieved naturally by beneficial microbes — killing pathogens and eliminating odor. The end product, referred to as dairy bio-fiber or DBF, “has a lot of the same traits that peat moss does, except it has natural fertilizer value– and it is a near to perfect pH,” Kessler explained. “It also holds water significantly longer, as shown in university trials.”
Selling the DBF to the horticulture industry creates an additional revenue source for dairy farms. Farms utilizing the technology benefit from Kessler’s contacts within the horticulture industry.
“We’ve done the research. We know the horticulture industry wants the product,” Kessler said. “We have orders pending. They are looking for bio-friendly, renewable growing media solutions. We can supply such a product in the form of DBF, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane gas, on the dairy farm.”
The DBF product is viewed favorably in research conducted at multiple universities, including the University of Arkansas, Fresno State, Texas A&M and the University of Florida.
Not only can Eco-Tek make connections in the horticulture industry, it will also work with growers in the industry to adjust the pH and other technical growth parameters of the DBF to meet the specific growing needs of the end customer.
“We handle all the scientific side of marketing this material to the horticulture industry,” Kessler said. “We will go in and talk to a grower — if they raise petunias, or geraniums, or poinsettias — we will discuss using DBF in a mix, how adaptable it is, what pH they require, and then how to modify the DBF to fit whatever they grow and work with them hand in hand.”
The DBF holds water longer than peat moss, a benefit to water-starved areas like California. In fact, Eco-Tek will soon launch its first full system in California, where recent legislation restricting methane emissions has created new challenges for the state’s large dairy farms.
“Our system reduces methane emissions by a very substantial amount,” said Kessler, who expects to work with more dairies in California and throughout the country as more states mandate methane reduction.
California is home to both industries served by Eco-Tek technology, often in close proximity.
“A dairy farm where we will process this DBF is right around the corner from a nursery that grows young almond trees and a greenhouse starting grape vines,” said Kessler, who notes the company also has a separation system in Ohio and expects more interest from dairies in other Midwestern states.
Currently, most of the Sphagnum peat moss used by greenhouses and growers in the U.S. is purchased from Canada. The DBF produced with the Eco-Tek equipment creates a U.S.-based alternative with multiple environmental benefits. DBF is a more sustainable product, processed and distributed with a smaller carbon footprint than peat moss. The ability to hold moisture longer reduces both water usage and energy needed for pumping water.
Farms that enter into a partnership with Eco-Tek can recover the equipment cost in less than three years based on current market conditions, says Kessler. And Eco-Tek’s involvement doesn’t stop at the sale. “We manufacture the equipment, we install it, we warranty it and we maintain it,” Kessler said.
As Eco-Tek anticipates increased equipment sales throughout California and the Midwest, it is talking to venture capitalists to secure additional funding. “We are growing, we are optimistic,” Kessler said. “But we are only in our early stages.”
Farms that enter into a partnership with Eco-Tek can recover the equipment cost in less than three years based on current market conditions, says Kessler. And Eco-Tek’s involvement doesn’t stop at the sale. “We manufacture the equipment, we install it, we warranty it and we maintain it,” Kessler said.
As Eco-Tek anticipates increased equipment sales throughout California and the Midwest, it is talking to venture capitalists to secure additional funding. “We are growing, we are optimistic,” Kessler said. “But we are only in our early stages.”