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Kewaunee County explores manure digester network

Cow milking at Dairy Dreams LLC, December 21, 2015 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
Cow milking at Dairy Dreams LLC, December 21, 2015 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)
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Officials in Kewaunee County are moving forward with a feasibility study designed to address the issue of farm runoff.

County leaders say a bio-digester system could process manure from thousands and thousands of cows.

But not everyone is on board with the plan.

At the Dairy Dreams dairy farm in Kewaunee County, 3,500 cows are milked three times a day. Owner Don Niles says building a series of manure digesters is a good idea.

"If we're going to change a complex problem, we have to sometimes use new and innovative solutions to do it," Niles said.

The Kewaunee County Board recently approved a $50,000 feasibility study grant from the state Public Service Commission. The study is called Project Phoenix.

"The concept would be to have six or eight of the hubs, with the satellite farms pumping into these main digesters," said Ron Heuer, Kewaunee County Board Chairman.

Heuer says the digester would remove two-thirds of the manure's water content. A lower amount of concentrated liquid manure would be piped back to the farms and then spread on the fields.

But not everyone agrees with the idea. Some environmentalist groups say we've already passed the tipping point. They say there are just too many cows in Kewaunee County.

"We're in a big mess," said Dick Swanson.

Swanson is on the county's groundwater task force. He says cows already outnumber people in the county, nearly five to one.

"How much more can that land handle? It can't. We have to take some of these fields our of spreading. We have to take them out of the system, and give nature a chance," said Swanson.

County leaders say digesters could process 6,000 cows for about $3 million. Farmers would form cooperatives to pay for it all. Heuer says concentrated manure means fewer trucks on the highways.

"You're going to be hauling like only 40% of it, not 100% of it. So there's your savings," he said.

"Anything we can do to safely and cleanly remove that water for any other purpose to allow us to have less manure to move up and down the road, that would be an advantage to us," said Niles.

County leaders say they will select a project engineer and meet with farmers in the area.

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The county has until June to complete the study.

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