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New ND business turns bison manure into bison compost

LEEDS, N.D. -- Owners of a large bison ranch near here have partnered with another couple to sell what they refer to as "America's original compost."...

LEEDS, N.D. -- Owners of a large bison ranch near here have partnered with another couple to sell what they refer to as "America's original compost."

The company, Bison Compost, is owned by Dennis Sexhus and Keith Kakela of North Prairie Bison Ranch and old friends Judy and Tom Duenow of Elk River, Minn.

Judy Duenow grew up near Leeds, N.D., a community 200 miles northwest of Fargo, and still owns a farm nearby. During a visit to the farm a few years ago, Tom Duenow suggested to Sexhus they start composting and selling the bison manure.

Compost is a material produced during the decomposition of organic matter, such as manure, that can be used by growers to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.

Duenow says bison compost is especially effective because it has high nutrient value of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which helps reduce the amount of inorganic material growers may need to use.

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The partners formed the company with the assistance of Mary Berg of North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center.

As an area extension specialist in the livestock environmental management program, she was able to teach them about the production of quality compost.

The process begins when the manure is removed from the feedlots and piled into windrows 12 feet wide by 8 feet high and from 200 to 250 feet long. It is then allowed to naturally heat up to about 160 degrees. Once it begins to cool, a compost turner is used to aerate the manure, which helps eliminate pathogens and weed seeds. The process is repeated at least three additional times before the product is then cured, screened and bagged for sale.

Berg says compost made in this manner is nice and fine, and almost fluffy.

"It looks like something you just want to plant a tomato in," Berg says.

The first batch of their compost, Buffalo Earth, is now for sale on the website -- bisoncompost.com -- in a cubic foot box and 1- or 5-gallon pails.

They initially plan to market the product to smaller producers like vegetable farmers, greenhouses and local food growers, but Duenow says larger bulk orders are also possible.

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