Environmentally friendly solution offered for manure pit foaming

by Tony Kryzanowski | Jan 2012

Three hog barn explosions have occurred in the past few months in Iowa alone

Three hog barn explosions have occurred in the past few months in Iowa alone – the latest example resulting in the death of 1,100 hogs and the injury of a farm worker – because of the buildup of methane and other dangerous gases from liquid manure stored in belowground pits.

A company called Pit Solutions LLC believes it has a solution to prevent this dangerous situation from occurring.

Chemical marketer Randy Marah introduced Pit Solutions co-owners Ron Tannahill and C.J. Nannenga to a company that operates a chemical/microbial lab that develops foam control products. They have since formed a partnership to produce and market those products.

According to Pit Solutions, the emergence of foam in swine confinement pits is a complex and costly problem resulting in issues such as producers having to transfer pigs out of buildings prematurely due to the foam coming through the slats, interruption of building loading schedules, pit ignitions, barn explosions, personnel injuries, gassed pigs, and the need for premature transfer of manure. The manure is typically pumped out of the pits in the fall after crops are harvested and farmland is available for application.

Nannenga says an increase in the price of corn and soybean components of the swine rations has prompted producers to seek less costly feed alternatives. Increasing the use of dried distillers grain in the feed rations, sometimes by as much as 40 to 50 percent, can cause an imbalance of bacteria in the pits, the result being the production of dangerous foam laced with methane and hydrogen sulfide gas, he says. Nannenga notes the foam acts as a blanket, which can trap the gasses between the bottom of the foam and the surface of the manure.

“When this occurs, only two factors are required for a potential disaster – a significant disruption of the foam blanket that releases the trapped gas reservoir and a source of ignition such as an open flame brooder, an LB White-type space heater, a light switch being turned on, or a spark from a welder or grinder,” says Nannenga.

Pit Solutions has developed an all-natural system that consists of two products working together to control and inhibit the production of pit foam. The products -– called Defoamer 4000 and Custom Bacteria Systems (CBS) – each contain patented formula components. Pit Solutions has a priority agreement with a chemical/microbial lab that specifically designed the two products. The company says these products are new to the industry, with preliminary tests showing they effectively control foam and inhibit the organisms that are responsible for the foam.

“The product has been tested in approximately 100 barns – both in a large, Iowa-based integrated grower’s barns and a private individual grower’s barns – and we achieved a 92 percent success rate,” says Nannenga.

In one test, the defoaming product was able to lower foam levels from 51 inches to 10 inches in 24 hours, which is particularly helpful in emergency situations.

While the defoamer can help to solve an aggressive emergency foam problem as a quick fix, Pit Solutions LLC officials note the most cost-effective approach to foam control is in a continuous preventive maintenance program, best started as soon as the pits have been pumped in the fall. According to the company, the producer is treating a lower volume of manure and the organisms responsible for the foam are at their most vulnerable stage, making them the most susceptible to the CBS application protocol.

Because the product is 100 percent natural, Marah adds that it will not harm the manure, which continues to work well as a fertilizer when it is land applied. Company representatives say the product formulations actually enhance the value of the manure for field applications, are completely harmless to animals, people and the environment, and contain no silicone or antibiotics.

“In our test barns that were treated in mid-June, barns with pits that were about half full of manure and carried a foam blanket of up to 15 inches, after only one initial treatment, the foam was completely eliminated, there was no odor or flies, and the treatment held past the time of pit pump-out this fall with no foam noted in the manure hauler’s tank wagons,” says Nannenga. “That in itself is a huge plus as it cuts down on manure hauling costs considerably, especially if you have far to haul the manure.”

David Schmidt, an assistant extension engineer at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the foaming issue for the past three years and cautions that to the best of his knowledge, no products have been developed to manage the pit foaming issue that are effective all the time. However, he sees no reason farmers shouldn’t give products like those developed by Pit Solutions LLC a try.

“My advice to people is to try it to see if it works,” he says, “but don’t spend a lot of money on it initially.”
He adds that the main challenge to controlling and preventing pit foam is “we aren’t really understanding why it’s going on.”

The reasons for pit foaming are highly complex and the microbes responsible for it have a way of evolving so that, although a product may be effective for a time, it may not be effective in every situation or forever, he says.

Pit Solutions is targeting North America-wide distribution of the products because it believes there is a significant demand. Although the company’s main focus is on the hog industry, the product has already been tested on a dairy farm lagoon with positive results.

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