Jack Lincoln believes he knows how to make the world a better place for dairy farmers — maybe everyone else, too. All he needs is for people to buy into his idea.

The retired dryland farmer and composting specialist from Yakima, Wash., has spent the past seven years working on a closed-loop system that converts solid waste from dairy farms and feedlots into revenue-producing materials, all while conserving natural resources and eliminating pollution.

Lincoln’s self-sustaining system uses only a fraction of the water required to operate a typical dairy and also limits the amount of land required to grow feed crops. With 14 avenues to generate revenue — and even more ways to save money — the system has the potential to turn many farmers’ fortunes around.

“I’ve spent thousands of hours on this project over the past seven years, and I can’t figure out why no one has gone this far with the concept,” said Lincoln, who composted for about 15 years in Hermiston, Ore., Wallula, Wash., and Longview, Wash., before moving to Yakima in 1991.

“There are some government agencies that have spent millions of dollars trying similar ideas, but they never seem to make any progress,” he added. “You just have to think outside the box. That’s what I’ve done, and now I’m beginning to see the results.”

Lincoln said some elements of his closed-loop system are currently being used on Northwest dairy farms, but he has yet to convince any farmers to invest in the full operation.

The initial cost of the equipment — about $1 million — may seem prohibitive to many farmers, Lincoln said, yet they continue to invest in traditional equipment like tractors and hay balers because it’s what they’ve always done.

“It’s a mentality,” he said. “Farmers might say they can’t afford something like this, but they’re not looking at the long-term potential.”

Lincoln estimates that a dairy farmer might save $500,000 per year in water and electricity costs by implementing the closed-loop system. With all of the available revenue streams — fertilizer, electricity, biofuel, feed crops and more — a farmer could pay back the entire cost of the system in three years.

“The way I see it, if a number of farms got together and shared the expense, the system would pay itself back in no time,” he said. “It has the potential to provide enormous savings, but it’s also good for the environment.”

The chief ecological benefit of using Lincoln’s system is that it utilizes all of the waste from dairies and feedlots while producing zero pollution. One element heats the system and generates electricity; another purifies wastewater so it can be reused.

As Lincoln has become more passionate about water conservation and sustainable land practices over the years, he has tried to develop innovative ideas that can help not only farmers, but everyday people as well.

Tests have confirmed that Lincoln’s system is equally effective in growing fruit and vegetables. He said his system can produce as many crops in a 200-square-foot building as a farmer could raise on 200 acres using traditional methods. All that while using 96% less water.

“The ground available for farming is shrinking every year, and it’s going to take a new approach if we want to maintain our current production levels,” he said. “I’m not trying to get rich. I just believe there’s a need for something like this.”

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