Success in Agriculture
May 19, 2017, Waunakee, WI - Once infamous for spills, permit violations and even an explosion, the manure digester just north of Waunakee is now receiving accolades from an environmental group dedicated to clean lakes.

The Clean Lakes Alliance presented Clean Fuel Partners, LLC, the digester operator, with the Lumley Leadership Award for Lake Stewardship for its efforts to reduce phosphorus entering the Yahara Watershed.

"We were completely surprised and caught off guard when we were announced," said Clean Fuel CEO John Haeckel. "I would like to think it's because we have been working to make the Waunakee facility work, to sort of resurrect it from a place where it wasn't successful."

The manure digester was originally built in partnership with Dane County and operated by a different company, Clear Horizons, with the intention of removing algae-causing phosphorus from three area farms that would otherwise flow into lakes and streams.

The digester also captures methane in the process to produce energy. READ MORE
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
May 15, 2017, Raleigh, NC – PrairieChar, a Kansas company developing a system to convert animal manure into useful products, won the $10,000 cash prize and $3,500 in legal and financial advice at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center's 2017 Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase.

PrairieChar Chairman and CEO Robert Herrington said he started the company because his wife made him buy her a horse farm.

He suffered a broken back when a tree fell on him as he was clearing a pasture. Lying in bed recuperating, he called friends in California and asked them to send him business plans to review. One caught his eye.

"We're in the manure business," Herrington said of what has become his new adventure. "We take something you don't want and turn it into something you do."

Manure is a cost center in the cattle, swine and poultry industries. It causes disposal and environmental problems.

In North Carolina, one of the top swine producers in the nation, manure from swine and poultry adds up to 40 billion pounds a year. Swine manure put into lagoons causes odor and environmental problems that Herrington believes can be solved with PrairieChar's technology.

PrairieChar, which Herrington said was engineered to be a scalable, cost-effective solution, is developing machines the size of cargo containers that can be placed next to a manure pile. The manure never has to be transported more than 300 feet. The company's revenue-share model means it gets the manure for nothing and farmers turn a cost center into a revenue stream.

The machines turn the manure into two valuable sterile products, he said. The process eliminates emissions into the air and removes soil and water hazards. One product produced is a "100 percent OMRI organic fertilizer that can reduce conventional fertilizer needs."

The other is a sustainable, renewable coal substitute that produces an ash that is actually valuable instead of being an environmental hazard like coal ash. It is 90 percent pure phosphate that can be sold for 25-cents to one-dollar a pound.

"We can change the way we're dealing with environmental issues," Herrington said. "We could convert manure into 33 million tons of our products annually."

It would also create jobs paying $50,000 to $70,000 annually in rural America, he added.

The machines cost $550,000 to build. The company recently opened a Series A round looking for $5 million. Although the company currently plans to begin operations on cattle manure in Kansas, Herrington said that if enough of its funding comes from North Carolina, it will target swine manure "sooner rather than later."
Published in Companies
May 10, 2017, Bonduel, WI – While AgSource Laboratories is not "older than dirt," the organization does have a 50-year history of analyzing soil and contributing to the overall health and productivity of thousands of acres of land.

What started as a county extension milk lab has grown into a full service agronomy lab, complete with nutrient management planning and GPS soil sampling services.

AgSource Laboratories, in Bonduel, Wis., became a part of AgSource (then called ARC, Agricultural Records Cooperative) in August 1967. That first year, the lab processed just 5,301 soil samples. Today, the lab can analyze that many samples in under two days.

"We're very proud of the lab's long history," notes Steve Peterson, AgSource Vice President of Laboratory Services. "Bonduel has been a great community to work in. Thank you to our friends in Bonduel and thank you to our customers for 50 terrific years!"

Over the years, the laboratory has specialized in forage, soil, plant tissue and manure testing. While forage testing is no longer offered, agronomy services have expanded to include VRT fertilizer recommendations, GPS soil sampling and nutrient management planning.

"Every day in the lab is different, which keeps things fun," comments Peterson. "It should be interesting to see how we continue to adapt and grow in the future."

AgSource Laboratories, in Bonduel, Wis., will officially celebrate 50 years of soil testing services this August 2017. Customers, friends and community members are welcome to attend several special events this summer at the laboratory, located at 106 North Cecil Street. Stay tuned for more fun, 50th celebration announcements.

• June Dairy Month Ice Cream Social – Wednesday, June 14, 2-4 pm
• Anniversary Celebration Open House – Wednesday, August 16, 2-5 pm

For more information, visit, http://agsource.com/
Published in Companies

August 10, 2016 - Successful businesses depend on good employees. And finding good employees can be a tough task for farmers looking to maintain or expand their businesses. That was the message that Bernie Erven, Ohio State University professor emeritus, shared during the Growing Michigan Agriculture Conference Jan. 24 at the Lansing Center.

“Employee relations is one key to the growth of Michigan agriculture,” says Dale Rozeboom, Michigan State University Extension specialist and one of the conference organizers. “We invited Dr. Erven because we know that farmers often struggle when trying to hire and keep the best possible talent.”

Erven kicked off the conference by challenging attendees to think of a business that was thriving while its people were failing. He wasn’t surprised when none of the 75 people in attendance could come up with an example.

“No one single thing is more important than the people you hire,” he says, adding that far too many farmers try to keep everything in the family, even when it’s not in their best interest. “In agriculture, the hardest thing many people have to do is decide which family members to invite into the business.”

He suggested that business leaders develop a job description before making assumptions about family members’ fit in the organization.

“Before you even think about whom to hire, do a job analysis. Outline the job qualifications and put together a job description,” he says. “Too often the rule is ‘Anybody who needs a job in this family gets hired.’ But businesses that succeed hire only if they have a need in the business and the person fits.”

Next, he says, it’s important to build a pool of applicants. That means taking a long, hard look at how you spread the word about open positions.

“Talk to existing employees and find out why they like working for you,” he said. “If you want to hire seniors, for example, find out what they want and focus on that in your communication.”

As a final step, Erven says that interviewing is key to hiring success, even when hiring family members.

“Who else gets a job without an interview?” he asked the crowd. “An interview with family members can uncover a lot of information, both good and bad.”

And with outside candidates, he said that being a good interviewer is critical.

“There is no worse place to lose outstanding applicants than in a poor interview,” he pointed out. “It’s up to you to come across as a person they want to work for.”

Erven was one of six professionals chosen by Michigan State University Extension to discuss important concepts necessary to keep Michigan agriculture on a growth curve. You can see his suggestions for being a great interviewer, as well as other presentations by experts from across the country, on the Michigan State University Extension website, www.msue.msu.edu. Click on “Agriculture” and look for “Growing Michigan Agriculture Proceedings” in the Resource channel in the lower right section of the site.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Published in Companies

December 14, 2015 – Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) has presented VXV Farms and the Vandervalk family with the 2016 Environmental Stewardship Award.

Each year, ABP recognizes an operation that demonstrates leadership in environmental stewardship – one that contributes to the land while maintaining productivity and profitability.

Jack Vandervalk moved to southern Alberta in 1956 and has been managing the ranch situated in the Porcupine Hills ever since. Together with his wife Merry and his son Gerald and his family, they run a cow calf operation with retained ownership to slaughter.

“It is my personal desire to make sure the land is better than when I found it. It is a goal of mine to keep trying to make it better. In my opinion, the cow is what we harvest our grass with and the grass harvests the sun,” said Jack.

Rotational grazing and unique water management systems have played roles in the stewardship success of the ranch.

Throughout the summer they rotational graze their tame grass, moving cattle every two or three days to allow for adequate rest periods. The native grass is utilized during the winter months to lower feed costs.“We are privileged to take advantage of flood irrigation.

The landscape that we have allows us to flood our tame grass pastures with minimal costs outside labour,” said Gerald.Numerous dams have been developed which are equipped with water troughs made from recycled mine truck tires. Turning old tires into watering systems has become a secondary business on the ranch. The excess tire materials have been used to build a wind fence to protect the cattle during the colder winter season.

The Vandervalk family is very active in the community working with various landowner and stewardship groups. Through the Lyndon Creek Conservation Group they worked on projects with neighbouring ranches, Cows and Fish has done riparian area work on their site, and Alberta Conservation Association worked with them on rotational grazing and off-stream watering projects.

“We have future generations coming and it’s important to have a place to call home… that they can easily take over and maintain what we’ve started,” said Gerald.

Published in Beef

September 18, 2015 - The University of Guelph has begun a new study pertaining to agricultural producer stress, and how farmers may or may not be managing it, as well as investigating producer’s opinions with respect to what resources should be available.

"Many of us have personally known producers who have suffered from significant stress and other mental health issues," writes Andria Jones-Bitton, associate professor of epidemiology in the department of population medicine at the University of Guelph. "Some, tragically, have resulted in these friends and colleagues dying by suicide.  Of additional concern is the additional stress imposed on producers during animal disease outbreaks and other extreme events.  We currently know very little about stress and mental wellness in Canadian producers outside of these anecdotal experiences.

The study is being conducted in order to learn about the stress experienced by producers (from any agricultural commodity) in Ontario, as well as their resiliency or ability to cope with these stresses. 

"Some producers are highly resilient, while others are not," adds Jones-Bitton. "It is important to learn about the factors associated with both so that we can help those who need it most."

The online survery was launched on September 17th at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show. It takes about 15 minutes to complete, is completely anonymous, and can be done on computers or mobile devices.  Participants can choose to have their name into 3 draws for $200 (names CANNOT be linked to survey responses).  The study has been approved by our University’s Research Ethics Board.

The link to the survey is: www.producerwellness.ca

Please join in starting the dialogue around this important human health topic and help researchers gather crucial data.

Published in News

The digester facility on Korb Whale's farm near Drayton.  Courtesy of Korb Whale.

November 18, 2014 - An innovative group of agricultural entrepreneurs has banded together to offer a low-cost solution for organic waste disposal – and are producing green energy while they’re at it.

Cornerstone Renewables was formed a year ago when eight farmers and operators of two other sites in southwestern Ontario with electricity-producing bio-digesters decided to join forces to better manage how they do business.

An anaerobic digester is like a big stomach, says dairy farmer Korb Whale of Clovermead Farms near Drayton, Ontario.

It is fed a diet of organic inputs, such as livestock manure and bedding, fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, or food processing waste, which generates natural gas that powers a generator, which produces electricity that is sold into the provincial grid.

All Cornerstone members have 20-year Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) contracts with Ontario Power Authority for their electricity, and the material that is left over after electricity production is applied back to the land as fertilizer.

Whale, who has a digester on his farm, was instrumental in bringing together others with anaerobic digesters to form Cornerstone Renewables.

“This is a very new industry and there are very few of us doing it, so we needed to start working together to share opportunities and tips and information on issues,” he explains, adding that the new corporation has also helped create economies of scale.

“One farm can take 10,000 tons of off-farm waste per year, but the 10 sites working together create an annual market for 220,000 tons,” he says, adding that capacity is key for the waste sector. “As well, if one site is down, we can re-direct waste to another site, giving our customers stability and consistency.”

Those customers are primarily food and beverage producers who need to dispose of organic wastes their businesses create, such as sugar water from cookie-making, fat and greases, left over bread crumbs, or batches of food products that aren’t suitable for sale.

The eight on-farm digesters – six on dairy and two on beef farms – aren’t allowed to take post-consumer waste, which is anything that has already gone to the consumer, such as restaurant leftovers or compostable household waste.

The other two – one located at a Leamington greenhouse and the other at a commercial facility in Elmira – have permits that allow them to accept Source Separated Organics, such as green bin contents, and each can take about 70,000 tons of waste per year.

Sourcing and maintaining those contracts is something Cornerstone’s members weren’t good at on their own, says Whale, which is why they hired Travis Woollings to be their point person.

The group had worked with a professional facilitator during their development phase to help prepare a strategic plan for the new corporation, so they knew exactly what skills they needed to bring to the business.

Anyone who disposes of waste through Cornerstone pays a tip fee, which varies depending on the waste type. Doing business collectively means stable and set pricing for tip fees for both Cornerstone’s members and their customers.

“Food companies are glad to have us, we provide a reliable and green home for their waste at a competitive price,” says Woollings. “The interest we’ve received has been great and very positive. The waste sector is very interested as they’re starting to see the benefit of operations like ours.”

Cornerstone’s current priority is to get all of its existing sites working at capacity and maintaining a level of consistent production. Expansion is definitely in the cards, though, and Woollings is constantly reaching out to food processors to let them know there’s an economical alternative to landfill for their waste.

“We market ourselves as a destination – we want to make electricity, not haul waste, and we’re not a broker or a consultant,” explains Whale. “We want to maintain and nurture a positive image for the company, so it’s important we work with the right people to do that.”

Cornerstone is entirely self-funded with all ten members as investors, and ongoing operations are paid through a check-off fee paid by members. Woollings is the only employee, and the company owns no bricks and mortar, so costs can be kept pretty low.

“One of the key things of this group is the commitment and passion that is there. It’s not just about their farm businesses, it’s also about the environment and the need to preserve for future generations,” says Woollings.

Published in Dairy

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