(Previously published in The Duplin Times)
On Wednesday, June 29th, an Australian inventor from Crocodile Dundee country visited Duplin County to show pork farmers a way to turn the sludge in their lagoons into additional revenue.
Inventor and founder of Phinite, Jordan Phey, was a water engineer working to bring “simple and robust safe water treatments” for aboriginal people in northern Australia. He discovered two technologies to make money from water, and he began the process of developing them. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a contest called the Nutrient Recycling Challenge. Phey entered his invention in the challenge and won an award at the White House for being one of the 10 best ideas in the world. Smithfield Foods was a judge in the competition, and they were so impressed with Phey’s work that they invited him to North Carolina.
First, Phinite partnered with the NC Department of Soil and Water Conservation to conserve water in a wetland in Bladen County in 2019. In 2021, The Department of Soil and Water Conservation secured a Project Impact Grant to help make the technology accessible for farmers. “We have spent 16 million dollars in projects so far,” Executive Director Amanda Sand said. “We consider ourselves a conservation incubator.”
Phinite learned a lot from the wetland project and began to see the changes necessary to make their product commercially helpful for farmers. “Lack of access to cost effective drying systems is why farmers have such a big problem with waste today,” Jordan Phey said. “I felt this was a problem worth solving.”
Phinite is a drying system that mines solids from hog lagoons and dries them in onsite drying stations using natural air flow and remotely operated equipment. Within 4-6 weeks, a batch of manure–approximately 100 tons–is dried. Then it is crushed and put through screen filters to prepare it for market. “We are in the business of mining solids,” Jordan Phey explained. “Solids are where the good minerals are, and 30% of them are within a foot of the liner in lagoons.” Phinite uses long-reach back hoes and other custom designed equipment to mine lagoons. They are able to harvest two years of manure for every one year of waste production. Set up in a research and test site on Dexter Edwards’ farm, they plan to have all the kinks worked out of the product and able to use them on farms as early as this October.
Phinite handles the whole process from mining to market sales and returns a percentage of the sales to the farmer as a return of investment on their asset. Initial costs to install the equipment as well as some small maintenance is the responsibility of the farmer, but the difficult technical operations and everything else are managed by Phinite.
Long term pork farmer, Phinite investor, and Phinite North American Representative Don Butler said, “in order to be successful, we have to address one of the biggest issues in North Carolina and that is our accumulating sludge. Phinite takes a problem and turns it into an asset. We think we have a valuable product that is perfectly timed for what is happening in the market (with fertilizer availability and cost). We view this as an ongoing mining operation with a revolving service.”
Dexter Edwards, an executive with Smithfield Foods and one of the largest pork farmers in the state, said, “we’ve had a lot of people come to us claiming they had a solution. (We are well known for and made rich by our pork, turkey, and chicken products.) We are overproducing our product but today we have a solution that turns the waste burden into a product itself. I invested in bringing this to my property as long as Phinite was committed to making the changes to make it work. We are only time away from having this become a money maker for Duplin County. What we are going to be able to have is something that helps everyone. We will remove the argument that we are over producing (and we will have) a product to return to the farmland.”
Dexter Edwards is known for being a frugal investor, but the Phinite operations on his farm are considerably large. He is not the only investor that sees Phinite as a working solution. HogSlat, Prestige Farms, and several other large family farms have invested in the company.
Farmers interested in having a Phinite Drying System are encouraged to contact the company through their website, via email to: email@example.com, or by calling 910-337-5662.