Families Growing Our Food: The Power of Pork

Husker Home Place

The Kluthe farm at Dodge, Neb. has turned waste from their swine operation into worth, generating electricity.

Published on: March 29, 2013

Curt’s Comments:   Hog farms are not popular these days, especially for neighbors. Folks fight the construction of new pork facilities. Neighbors worry about odor and manure from the pig farms. But these folks haven’t been around Danny and Josie Kluthe’s hog farm near Dodge, Neb. When I first interviewed Danny several years ago, as I visited with him outside his swine barns, my nose didn’t know we were standing on a hog farm. As someone who grew up around hogs, I have a nose for pig manure. But thanks to a methane digester that renders any waste from the Kluthe farm nearly odorless, there is no “hostile” odor as Danny puts it, and the Kluthes are also converting their methane into electricity that is pumped back into the electrical grid. Danny and Josie and their family know about being good neighbors, and that’s one of the reasons they have so readily adopted this type of technology. We ran a story in Nebraska Farmer in July 2010 about their endeavors. They are truly finding a way to make pork production a powerful and neighbor-friendly enterprise. Here is their story…

POWER PIONEERS: Danny Kluthe has pioneered a way to generate electricity from hog manure and reduce odor as well.
POWER PIONEERS: Danny Kluthe has pioneered a way to generate electricity from hog manure and reduce odor as well.

When you talk with Danny Kluthe about the future of agriculture, his eyes light up and a big smile creeps across his face. “The future of agriculture is bright,” says Kluthe. And he knows what he is talking about.

Kluthe and his wife Josie have been Nebraska’s farm family bio-energy pioneers since they installed a successful methane digester on their 8000-head hog farm and grain operation near Dodge in 2006. Since then, Kluthe has been perfecting his methane digester, tweaking how much manure he feeds into the digester, which he calls a “living thing.”

“The digester works,” Kluthe says. “We’ve proven that.” The Kluthe farm currently produces enough electricity to power up to 35 homes. It took three years for this part of OLean Energy, the company Kluthe and his wife founded, to turn a profit.

One of the reasons the Kluthe family embarked on the digester project was because they wanted to expand their hog operation, but were concerned about excess odor becoming a problem for their neighbors. “There is a difference between a hostile odor and a good earthy odor,” Kluthe says. Being a good neighbor is important to Kluthe, so he was looking for ways to remove the “hostile” manure odor and produce electricity at the same time.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our country,” Kluthe says. “And livestock are the backbone of agriculture and a good form of economic development.” He reasons that hog farms provide jobs, use local grain resources and pay taxes. “My hope is that pigs can be a neighbor-friendly form of economic development,” he says. Because of the success of the Kluthe digester and because of the potential for new energy production, he says, “There will come a day when all new dairies and hog finishing facilities will be built with a digester.”

Just the Facts on the Kluthe Farm

1) Family operates 8000-head hog finishing operation and the only methane digester on a hog farm in Nebraska.

2) Covered methane digester is a 14-foot deep circular concrete structure that will hold 440,000 gallons of manure.

3) Manure takes 21 days to work through the digester.

4) Billions of bacteria naturally breakdown the manure and produce methane gas.

5) Methane runs a 3306 Caterpillar engine, which continuously powers an 80-kilowatt generator, sending electricity into the Cuming County PPD distribution system, powering up to 35 homes.

6) Kluthes formed their own bio-energy company, OLean Energy.

If you like this story or learned something you didn’t know by reading it, please pass it on to your urban friends who are interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the last Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the real families growing our food. Next month, I’ll focus on Garrett Dwyer, a young rancher who served his country bravely in Iraq, and returned home from duty to the family ranch west of Elgin to build a new life raising cattle.

You can also read last month's report about the no-till farm family from Colfax County.