Editor’s Note: Bacon Hill Farm is one of the four farms being honored as 2013 Environmental Stewards. The Stewards were featured in the fall issue of Pork Checkoff Report magazine. Look for stories of the other Stewards in other issues of this newsletter or go to www.pork.org to view videos of their farms.
Danny and Josie Kluthe can still smile when it comes time to fuel their farm truck. The fifth-generation farmers have seamlessly mixed pork production and cutting-edge technology, with natural gas from an anaerobic manure digester helping to fuel farm vehicles and to provide electricity to nearby Dodge, Neb.
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. The buildings are located atop a hill across from Sacred Heart Olean, a historic church that provides a picturesque backdrop through the trees.
Today, the Kluthes market about 15,000 finisher hogs annually and grow corn and soybeans on 280 acres. They also raise 100 chickens every year for family and friends. Being good environmental stewards is key to all of their endeavors at Bacon Hill.
“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,” Danny said. “That’s a big reason why we adopt new technology.”
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.
“With Sacred Heart Olean just across the road, controlling odor was a high priority for us,” said Kluthe, who is an active lifelong member of the 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 the production of electricity.”
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 but minus any odor.
“While not required, 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 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.
Their 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. “And the cost savings are a great bonus. We displace $4 per gallon on diesel fuel. The methane from our digester is the same energy component as natural gas from oil fields. But by utilizing manure from the barns, ours is renewable.”
Utilizing the methane creates a pollution-free and neighbor-friendly environment, Kluthe said.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Kluthe said. “And we appreciate being able to make our own electricity to power and heat our barns and fuel to operate farm vehicles.”
Planning Now 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, adding that they have six grandchildren. “We look forward to a sixth generation continuing to provide wholesome, high-quality products to consumers.”