Don Lloyd dipped his bottle into a tank of water that had been flushed out of three nearby pens filled with thousands of hogs just six hours earlier.
“There, that’s pig water,” he proclaimed as he held up the bottle and tipped it back for a thirst-quenching chug.
Lloyd’s recent demonstration wasn’t designed to gross people out, but to show his confidence in a treatment system that he developed to purify the putrid, waste-filled water dumped into so-called hog lagoons across North Carolina.
North Carolina has 10 million hogs at any given time — more than any other state except Iowa — and the hog lagoons constructed to hold hog waste have aroused the ire of environmentalists and neighbors who say the foul smell hurts property values.
If approved, a system like Lloyd’s could represent a major development in North Carolina’s $1.5 billion hog industry, the state’s No. 1 farm commodity in 2003.
“The data that we have seen so far on this system is encouraging,” said Mike Williams, a North Carolina State University professor overseeing an evaluation of several alternatives to traditional hog waste lagoons.
Lloyd’s pilot system, developed at Little Creek Hog Farms here, cleans out three hog houses four times a day, churning out potable water within six hours. The water is then recycled to water the hogs. Solid waste strained from the water is mixed with high-carbon cotton plant remnants to make compost.
The $150,000 system, developed with help from a state environmental grant, includes pipes that run from flushing tanks through the hog houses and into purifying tanks.
The environmental group Sustainable North Carolina joined with Lloyd, Little Creek owner Chuck Stokes and other hog farmers to develop the project.
The partnership was an unlikely one: Hog lagoons have been attacked by environmentalists as hazards because they emit airborne pollutants and then foul the soil when farmers repeatedly spray their contents over fields as required.
Pork producer willing to buy in
Smithfield Foods, one of the nation’s largest pork producers, and Premium Standard Farms, have agreed to start using the new technologies on company-owned farms when it is economically feasible.
Williams, the professor, said he plans to end all of the study projects by the end of the year and then make a recommendation to Attorney General Roy Cooper. The state will then work with the hog companies to get the approved systems in place within the next few years.
Besides Lloyd’s system, several other hog water treatment systems have met environmental requirements, but cost up to six times more than the cost to use a hog lagoon. Only a few treatment systems do away with lagoons and just one or two others make the water potable.
Lloyd claims his system makes the water potable and he estimates it may cost 40 percent less to operate than a hog lagoon.
“I know without a doubt we have the components to do away with the lagoon system,” Stokes said.