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Smithfield Partners with Agtech Startup to Convert Controversial Hog Waste Lagoons into Sustainable Fertilizer

April 5, 2018

Smithfeld Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, is launching a partnership with Florida startup Anuvia Plant Nutrients to convert the hog manure created by the company’s farming operations into fertilizer.

Anuvia Plant Nutrients has developed a patented process to turn almost any organic material into a safe, dry, granulated fertilizer suitable for large-scale row crop farming.

The two companies have been piloting the process for six months and today announced that Anuvia will begin handling no less than 100,000 wet tons of hog waste per year in 2019, which translates to 65,000 tons of fertilizer product. Smithfield will collect and begin the process by de-watering the waste solids from company-owned and contract hog farms, before providing the remnants to Anuvia. Anuvia will pick-up and transport the material to their processing plant to create the fertilizer. 

A Big, Old Problem

This project is part of Smithfield Renewables, an effort, launched in October 2017, to bring Smithfield’s sustainability efforts under one roof. The aim of the platform are to reduce the company’s carbon emissions by 25% by 2025. Turning manure into fertilizer and natural gas are major goals of the initiative.

“Through Smithfield Renewables, we are aggressively pursuing opportunities to reduce our environmental footprint while creating value,” said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables. 

Hog operations have an enormous amount of waste to contend with (pigs create up to five times more waste than humans) and Smithfield’s tactic to date has been to store solid waste in open-air anaerobic treatment lagoons behind hog houses. In order to keep the lagoons from overflowing, the waste is liquefied and sprayed on nearby crops, according tothe Guardian, Civil Eats, and Rolling Stone. Local residents say that the spray affects the air quality and coats their houses and cars.

Smithfield’s manure lagoons have been a source of controversy for the company for decades. The Anuvia partnership will begin with the lagoons in North Carolina, which is where issues around manure storage are currently coming to a head.

The smell, along with environmental and human health concerns for the surrounding neighborhoods, mostly in the American South, has led to multiple lawsuits including one coming before a jury in eastern North Carolina today. Residents claim that a Smithfield subsidiary hog operation creates odor and nuisance in their community.

The case currently being heard in a North Carolina court could affect 25 other cases against the same operation from 2014.

Smithfield Foods was acquired by Chinese company WH Group in 2013. According to a recent report in Rolling Stone, WH Group is already converting manure into biogas on Chinese farms. Smithfield’s former director of corporate communications Don Butler told the magazine,”lagoons work better for North Carolina’s warm climate. . . I’ve seen growers go bankrupt trying to use alternative systems.”

A New Solution

Anuvia’s products are unique in the waste-to-fertilizer world. Similar operations like California Safe Soil, KDC Ag, WiseErgIndustrial/Organic, and Re-Nuble all have a liquid fertilizer as their end product and most use exclusively food waste as their substrate.

Anuiva CEO Amy Yoder told AgFunderNews that in terms of format, a granulated formula was important to Anuvia, since that is the form of popular chemical fertilizers on large farms.

“It’s easy to transport and move around from a logistics stand point. We make a granular product that is similar to chemical products on the market today. It drops easily into farms systems” said Yoder.

Anuvia adds additional nutrients to the waste-derived product in order be able to sell it to large-scale row crop farmers, who require higher concentrations of certain nutrients.

“We are focused on mainstream row crop agriculture. In order to do that, we use the organics as a sort of docking station. We add nutrients and the organics hold onto those nutrients. We’re not [certified] organic, but we’re sustainable,” said Yoder.

Taking in many different forms of organic substrate was also important to the company, which has spent the last two years discovering what kinds of waste its process can and cannot take in, in order to be as flexible as possible when sourcing organic material. 

“Things change, tech changes, the industry changes,” said Yoder on the reason not to marry her company to one waste stream like grocery store waste or agricultural byproducts.

Anuvia can indeed use consumer and grocery waste, agricultural byproducts like peanut and almond hulls, dairy byproducts, plus any kind of animal manure. Said Yoder, “As long as it started out as a plant we can now utilize it.”

It is Yoder’s and Smithfield’s hope that the fertilizer created through this partnership will be used by farmers growing the grains that go into hog feed, creating a circular value chain

“From an agronomic perspective, to be able to take agricultural waste to build an enhanced efficiency fertilizer that goes back on to the farm is a tangible example of sustainable strategies and a circular economy,” said Yoder.

In order to take on Smithfield’s volume, Anuvia is in the negotiating phase on a new facility to supplement the company’s current factory in Zellwood, Florida. The startup has an exclusivity deal with Smithfield covering hog waste, and cannot take waste from any other hog operation, but the rest of its supply sources are unaffected by the deal.

Anuvia raised $23 million in equity capital from existing investors in 2016, led by TPG ART, the growth stage venture vehicle of global private equity group TPG that’s dedicated to renewable technologies. Osceola Capital Management, a private equity firm based in Tampa, Florida, and growth stage agtech VC Pontifax AgTech also increased their stakes.

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