AQUA Innovations’ hopes for a breakthrough technology depend largely on the experience of a farm in northwestern Wisconsin.
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Winters among high-profile AQUA investors
When Brett Favre hangs a nickname on you, it tends to stick. So back in the 1990s when the future Hall of Fame quarterback referred to Frank Winters, his good friend and teammate, as “Frankie Bag-A-Donuts,” the good-natured man who snapped footballs to Favre in two Super Bowls was destined to hear it over and over again.
His fellow investors in AQUA Innovations, a Wisconsin-based environmental engineering firm that believes its has found a solution to a myriad of agricultural challenges, might even call him Frankie “Bag-O-Money.” Winters, who is both a shareholder and director of business development for the firm, has been an active business investor since his playing days ended, but this opportunity has him particularly excited.
When Winters first learned of AQUA Innovations, the discussion was about the legislative and permit side of the operation — the company has endorsed proposed state legislation to streamline permitting and remove uncertainty for farm operators — but as he learned more, he delved into it and saw the water quality problems its technology is trying to address.
The technology that Winters and his fellow investors believe in is called the NuWay process, a nutrient concentration system that mechanically separates manure into bio-degradable products, including distilled water. “Living in Wisconsin for a long time, we had heard about the problems, especially here in Dane County with the surrounding lakes and the problems we’re having with phosphorous, and so we became enthralled by it,” Winters states. “We actually sat with farmers to discuss it, and when they came to us and made a presentation to put a group of investors together and try to purchase this company, we were really excited.”
For Winters, due diligence not only includes research into business ventures, but also business associates. More often than not, he’s associated himself with people who’ve been successful in business, and it has paid off. With AQUA Innovations, his partners include company president Chris Lenzendorf, also his partner in Lenzendorf Winters & Associates and part of the funeral business with All Faiths Funeral Homes in Madison and Janesville; Mike Herl, broker and partner with Madison Commercial Real Estate Development; Sean Cleary, president of Cleary Building Corp. of Madison, which will construct the onsite facilities that house the NuWay system on farms; and
a former governor named Tommy Thompson, who remains a farmer at heart.
There are more investors involved and most of them, Winters notes, are “local Madison guys” who have been very successful in their own right, including people who have built businesses from the ground up. “We’ve surrounded ourselves with these guys and that’s what we’re looking for as an investment group — people that have been through the wringer and know what it takes to be successful.”
AQUA technology makes World Dairy debut
By the time the 2018 World Dairy Expo wraps up in early October, a global audience will have first-hand knowledge of the ecological and economic benefits of the NuWay nutrient management system. Dane County is in the process of installing the system at the site of its second digester, located just outside of Middleton in the town of Springfield, in time for demonstration tours during World Dairy Expo, set for Oct. 2–6.
AQUA Innovation’s manure management technology will be installed at the site of Dane County’s second manure digester in Middleton in time for tours during the 2018 World Dairy Expo.
Chris Lenzendorf, president of AQUA Innovations, the Sharon, Wisconsin-based water engineering firm that manufactures the system, isn’t one to ignore business prospects, and he notes that prospects from all over the world will be in town. “We’re going to give tours of our facility,” he says, “but equally as important, we’ll start a conversation about the use of the nutrients during the growing season. That’s kind of a hot topic.”
If widely adopted by dairy operations, the AQUA Innovations technology will change the way farmers handle cow manure. It’s a nutrient management system that uses a mechanical separation process to remove 100% of the suspended solids and 99% of the phosphorous from manure, produce biodegradable by-products that allow spreading throughout the growing season, and reclaim some of the manure as distilled water.
Removing phosphorous, which is public enemy number one for the Yahara Watershed, is a key feature. Global guests will see a system that uses a reverse osmosis process to reclaim 50% of the water in manure as pure distilled water, which then is safe enough to return to the watershed with some modifications to mirror the composition of local waterways. Lenzendorf says reclaimed water is the most exciting part of the technology because it’s actually cleaner than the tap water available to Wisconsin residents.
At World Dairy, “We’re going to take that opportunity to talk to dairy farmers, to legislators, to people from all over the country to get ideas on how they do things in their states,” Lenzendorf notes. “That will be a huge place for us to start that conversation, and equally
as important, for them to see our system in use.”
Also among NuWay’s touted benefits is that it reduces storage and hauling costs (placing less stress on local roads) and minimizes odors. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi hopes to see more widespread adoption of this technology on local farms and combine it with dredging projects that remove phosphorous muck that has accumulated on the beds of local waterways. He believes the dredging is needed to achieve meaningful reductions in phosphorus levels, and the farm technology will prevent more phosphorous from forming.
A dose of realism is needed in terms of expectations because substantial improvement will take years to accomplish, “but this will pay off for our kids,” Parisi states.
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