Rainey dairy near Acme uses $930,000 grant to prove new technology

Editor’s Note: This story was provided by the Dairy Farmers of Washington organization, the state dairy products commission.

ACME — A dairy farm’s recycling of water has become a game changer for its agricultural processes.

Coldstream Farms in the Nooksack River South Fork Valley is working to turn the 2,500-cow dairy into a zero-waste business with a cutting-edge filtration system that will transform the cow manure into clean water.

The farm of Jeff Rainey is in the process of installing an innovative wastewater system that will eventually benefit the Nooksack River. Coldstream received a $930,305 grant from the Washington State Conservation Commission to help cover installation, operating costs and research of this project.

On average, milk cows on the farm produce about 60,000 gallons of manure a day — 22,000 of which will go through the system’s combination of nanofiltration and reverse osmosis to become 12,000 gallons of clean water daily. After treatment, the water will be clean enough for the cows to drink. It can also be irrigation for the farm’s crops, and it will benefit local salmon runs by increasing streamflow.

Other products of the system will be approximately 16 yards per day of nutrient-rich solid manure and 8,000 gallons of nitrogen and potassium suitable for use as chemical-free fertilizer. These concentrated nutrients will be used by the farm as well as by other local growers of food, such as berries and potatoes, to replace imported fossil-based fertilizers.

Coldstream Farms will be the first farm in the state to use this type of clean water membrane technology. One aspect of the farm’s current manure management technology, the Beddingmaster, will be used to treat the primary solids that come from the manure production of a day.

Regenis, an agricultural waste solutions company based at Ferndale, has been working with the farm to get the system up and running. Eric Powell, Regenis business development director, approached Rainey in 2017 about the potential of installing this technology on his farm.

“We knew from the beginning that Coldstream Farms would be a great fit for this technology,” Powell said. “Their location, climate and size all work really well together to make this technology successful.”

Nutrient management techniques vary significantly across Washington, especially between eastside and west-side farms. The wetter western climate has its benefits, but when it comes to managing cow manure, it can present a unique set of challenges.

Galen Smith of Coldstream Farms chooses to see the rain as an opportunity to improve business operation.

“We get anywhere from 80 to 120 inches of rain each year,” Smith explains of the South Fork. “With that much rainfall, we have to get creative. With this system, we’ll have the ability to capture some of this water and put it to good use.”

For instance, a partnership of Public Utility District #1 of Whatcom County with the state Department of Ecology creates a convergence opportunity for the dairy with the nearby Nooksack River.  

For years, the PUD has worked with Whatcom County dairy and berry farmers helping them manage resources to sustain them, said general manager Stephan Jilk. “The PUD considers this clean water membrane technology as a sustainable solution to some of the water resource issues we are facing, and we hope to see the technology replicated on other Whatcom County farms.”

Smith said Coldstream is grateful that the Legislature saw the significance of investing in technology for agriculture. “We are very hopeful that the research provided from this project will not only benefit our farm, but the state’s agriculture as a whole.”

“Our goal is to use every resource on our farm and let nothing go to waste. Not only is this system helping us do that, but it’s improving the overall sustainability cycle of local agriculture.”