Danny and Josie Kluthe have seamlessly mixed pork production and cutting-edge technology, with natural gas from an anaerobic manure digester helping to fuel farm vehicles and provide electricity to nearby Dodge, Neb.
“It’s important for us to be good stewards of the land, so that consumers and future generations can see the results of our hard work and be proud of what we are,” said Danny Kluthe, a fifth-generation farmer whose family has been honored as 2013 Environmental Stewards. “That’s a big reason why we adopt new technology.”
The Nebraska couple began their career in pork production at Bacon Hill Farm raising feeder pigs in 1977. In 2000, they built four 1,000-head finishing barns, adding two more in 2005. Today, the Kluthes market about 15,000 finisher hogs annually and grow corn and soybeans on 280 acres.
Their swine buildings sit atop a hill across from Sacred Heart Olean, a historic church that provides a picturesque backdrop through the trees. “With Sacred Heart Olean just across the road, controlling odor was a high priority for us,” said Kluthe, a lifelong member of the church.
Digester Eliminates Odor
The Kluthes also want to be good neighbors, which led them in 2005 to install an anaerobic digester – the first in Nebraska – in partnership with the Nebraska Public Power District and grants from USDA and the Nebraska Environmental Trust. The renewable energy project is known as OLean Energy, with the name inspired by the nearby church.
“I first learned about an anaerobic digester on a California dairy farm, and I thought it was a perfect fit for our farm for odor control, as well as for production of electricity,” Kluthe said.
Manure is collected in deep pits under each barn. The pits are partitioned so one fourth of the manure gravity flows daily to the in-ground digester, which is 14-feet deep, 80-feet wide and holds 440,000 gallons of manure.
The digester, sealed with an insulated, flexible cover, heats up to 100 degrees F to allow bacteria to break down the manure. Methane gas is separated from the manure and pumped through a 3306 Cat engine that turns an 80-kilowatt generator to produce electricity.
After processing for 21 days, the manure travels to a polyethylene-lined lagoon. It exits with the nutrients still remaining, minus any odor.
“We took the extra step of installing a 40-mil polyethylene liner to protect water quality,” Kluthe said. “We also installed three monitoring wells and collect samples each fall to send to Midwest Laboratories to maintain the history of the wells and the lagoon.”
In the fall, a custom applicator applies the lagoon effluent using a drag hose with a no-till injector. Soil testing helps determine application rates, said Kluthe, who added that manure nutrients have boosted yields and improved soil health.
Pork-Powered Vehicles and Homes, Too
The hog operation uses only 20 percent of the renewable energy produced by OLean Energy. The remaining 80 percent is sold to the Nebraska Public Power District to power the equivalent of 50 homes.
“People who turn their lights on in Cuming County don’t know if the electricity came from OLean Energy or from elsewhere,” Kluthe said.
The Kluthe’s diesel truck and farm tractors are fueled by methane gas stored in a compressed natural gas (CNG) tank. The diesel truck has been converted to run on 80 percent CNG and 20 percent diesel, while the tractors run on 90 percent CNG and 10 percent diesel.
“With my pickup, I can drive more than 70 miles for every gallon of diesel I buy at the pump,” Kluthe said. “The cost savings are a great bonus. We displace $4 per gallon on diesel fuel.”
Planning for the Sixth Generation
The Kluthes’ daughter and son-in-law, Danielle and Brett Ortmeier, are an integral part of the farm’s day-to-day management. Brett handles routine operations at Bacon Hill and oversees the health and environment of the pigs in the six finishers, while Danielle also helps out. Daughter Dana keeps the books.
“It’s important to have our family involved in our farm,” said Josie Kluthe, adding that they have six grandchildren. “We look forward to a sixth generation continuing to provide wholesome, high-quality products to consumers.”
Stewards Combine Ingenuity, Integrity
Bacon Hill Farm joins other pork operations across the country in their commitment to protecting natural resources while minimizing the environmental footprint. The 2013 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards selected by the Pork Checkoff’s Environmental Stewards subcommittee include:
• Russell Brothers LLC, Monticello, Iowa
• Krikke Pork, Greenwich, Ohio
• Blue Mountain Farms, Milford, Utah
“The forward-thinking 2013 Stewards focus on innovative solutions and ideas on their farms,” said Lynn Harrison, chair of the Environmental Stewards selection subcommittee and former president of the National Pork Board. “They are doing all this while adhering to the industry’s We CareSM ethical principles.”
Now in its 19th year, the Environmental Stewards award recognizes producers who demonstrate a firm commitment to safeguarding the environment and their local communities. The winners were chosen earlier this year based on their manure management systems, water and soil conservation practices, odor-control strategies, farm aesthetics, neighbor relations, wildlife habitat promotion and innovative ideas used to protect the environment. The judges represented pork producers and environmental organizations.
To take a video tour of the 2013 Environmental Stewards’ farms, visit http://video.pork.org/.