North Dakota farmer partners with tech company for sustainable beef, fertilizer
Dakota Valley Growers is working with Bion Environmental Technologies on barns to feed 15,000 cows and make use of the manure.
BATHGATE, N.D. — A North Dakota beef producer is teaming up with a manure treatment technology firm to expand its operations and generate low-carbon fertilizer.
Dakota Valley Growers of Bathgate is working with Bion Environmental Technologies to develop a 15,000-head sustainable beef cattle feeding operation. Annual production is expected to be about 42,500 head of premium sustainable beef cattle.
Bion’s technology will help turn manure from the feedlot into about 4,000 tons of low-carbon fertilizer annually, enough to cover more than 11,000 acres of corn ground, according to a news release from Bion announcing the deal.
“It's exactly what I need as a producer with those barns to be sustainable,” Russell Edgar of Dakota Valley Growers said in an interview. “It's doing all the things that people are requesting for the environment, long-term sustainable.”
He said the specialized barns will about double the number of cattle finished in North Dakota, and the Bion technology will create other revenue streams.
The first revenue stream is the beef from the cattle. By finish feeding the cattle indoors, Edgar said he hopes to increase his feeding efficiency by 10% to 12%, plus other benefits, such as improved herd health.
Manure from the cattle will fall through slats into a pit equipped with automated scrapers. The scrapers will run constantly, pushing manure to a biodigester, which can turn the methane into renewable natural gas, another revenue source.
Bion has a patented process to turn the liquid from the manure into a nitrogen fertilizer and treat the liquid to be reused on the farm, clean enough that the cattle can drink it, or for irrigation.
The solids will be composted and turned into fertilizer pellets.
Bion will market the fertilizer and the cattle, with the beef labeled as being sustainably raised.
While the barn will be able to hold 15,000 cattle, Edgar said another 3,000 head will be staged outside to replace the cattle headed to market.
Dakota Valley Growers will own the cattle and do some custom feeding. Edgar said cattle will come from backgrounders all over the upper Midwest.
Being just a few miles off of Interstate 29 helps make the trucking involved feasible, he said.
Edgar says it makes sense to finish cattle where the feed is, and there is plenty of feed available in the Red River Valley. Corn is cheaper there than in the western Corn Belt, where a lot of finishing is done.
He said the farm will need about 2 million bushels of corn per year when the project is complete, but that is a couple of years away.
According to the North Dakota Department of Environment Quality, the largest beef cattle feedlot in the state is in Adams County, permitted for 10,000 head. Currently, there are 51 active permits for beef feedlots with 1,000 or more head of beef.
Edgar said he learned about Bion while touring barns in Minnesota and contemplating an expansion from the 3,000 head he currently feeds.
Bion has two other projects in the works, one in Texas and another in North Platte, Nebraska.
Bion, based in New York state, has Ed Schafer, former North Dakota governor and U.S. secretary of agriculture, on its board.
"North Dakota has a long and rich farming and ranching history. It may have made sense in the past to ship both our corn and calves south for finishing — no longer,” Schafer said in a news release.