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Reaching for more green

Dakota farmers are as green as they come. They recycle and reuse. They protect the land and water. They’re the original conservationists, the true environmentalists. But it’s been a tough couple of years for producers trying to take being green to the next level on their farms and ranches.

Hopes for digester

Doug Luebke, Corsica, S.D., is trying to get a manure digester to turn a profit. The digester is part of Classic Farms, an investor-owned swine enterprise. Luebke is one of the shareholders.

Erected nearly five years ago, the digester reduces odor from the manure and produces methane gas just fine, but the feeder lines between the barns and digester keep plugging, so production is intermittent.

By installing some new equipment and making repairs, Luebke hopes that the digester will produce gas continuously this summer. Then he’d like to generate electricity and replace some of the farm’s propane purchases or transportation fuel with biogas. He also wants to dry the manure that has gone through the digester and sell it as fertilizer.

Key Points

It isn’t easy to develop new green projects on the farm.

A South Dakota hog farm is trying to get a digester working.

Used cooking oil has a biodiesel plant doing well.

Selling a dry fertilizer product is the key to turning the digester from an expense item into a profit center, Luebke says. Dried manure can be shipped farther more economically than wet manure, and he sees a big market for locally produced fertilizer.

After taking a trip to Germany this winter and visiting farms with similar manure digesters, Luebke is optimistic. “There’s no reason they won’t work in South Dakota, too.”

Biodiesel boost

Farmers and other investors who built a small, 7 million-gallon biodiesel refinery in 2006 think they have hit upon a profitable way to make biodiesel in an age of high soybean prices and uncertain government support. They are making biodiesel out of used vegetable cooking oil collected from restaurants and food-service institutions in the Twin Cities.

The company, called Hanson County Oil Producers, has purchased a franchise to provide the collection system to restaurants in the Dakotas. It plans to collect used cooking oil in Rapid City, Sioux Falls and other communities.

“This is really green,” says Brian Stork, CEO of the Alexandria, S.D., biorefinery “We’re using a waste product; we’re solving a disposal problem for cities; and we’re not using food to make fuel. Everybody wins.”

Walt Bones, South Dakota secretary of agriculture and a Parker, S.D., grain grower, cattle feeder and dairyman, encourages farmers and ranchers to keep exploring new ways to make their operations more efficient and more green.

His family tried to build a small ethanol plant on their farm and looked into putting in a digester to handle manure from their dairy several years ago. Neither project panned out.

“Eventually they’re going to happen,” he says. “There is going to be a breakthrough in the technology, or the economy will change. We have to hang in there, keep watching and keep trying.”


GREEN CREW: Doug Luebke (left) and Richard Brink, an electrical contractor, are working on getting a manure digester fully operational at Classic Farms, Corsica, S.D.

This article published in the July, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.