September 20, 2004 | General


BioCycle September 2004, Vol. 45, No. 9, p. 58
Feasibility study in Green Bay is evaluating how a regional composting plant can provide long-term solutions for local dairy and meatpacking industries.
Brad Holtz

IN BROWN COUNTY, Wisconsin, the Land Conservation Department (BCLCD) and the Green Bay Metro-politan Sewerage District (GBMSD) are partnering with the local meatpacking, animal by-products recycling, and dairy industries to determine the feasibility of establishing a regional composting operation. The stakeholders have raised the $100,000 required to fund the study and have hired a qualified consultant to complete it. Contributors to the feasibility study funding include Packerland Packing, Anamax Corp., Schreiber Foods, Wisconsin Public Service Resources, Environmental Defense, BCLCD and GBMSD.
The goals are to improve surface water quality from decreased soil phosphorus runoff and improve ground water quality from decreased nitrate contamination, along with economic benefits such as long-term stability and potential expansions for the local dairy and meatpacking industries.
Brown County’s dairy, cheese, and meatpacking industries are vital components of the region’s economy. Agriculture in Brown County is a $642 million industry that affects one out of every five local jobs. Milk cow numbers in this area have increased in recent years while the trend in much of the rest of the state has been reduced livestock numbers. Total dairy livestock in Brown County (including heifers and young stock) is now over 100,000. The trend is that farm size is increasing while the number of farms is decreasing, and the region now has more cows per square mile in Brown County than anywhere else in Wisconsin. At the same time, the county has experienced a loss in total agricultural land.
The combination of increasing dairy cow numbers and reduced agricultural acreage has resulted in increasing rental costs per acre and shortages of land to adequately apply the animal waste. These issues are also problematic for the local meatpacking industry, which is having difficulty finding enough available and affordable agricultural land to apply the 30,000 tons of paunch material and manure it generates annually from beef processing operations. Over 5,000 local jobs and future expansions could be at stake if meatpackers are not able to find a solution to this problem.
Another major factor further complicating the disposal of organic wastes in this area is new State regulations (CH. NR 151 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code) with more stringent phosphorous standards as compared to earlier nitrogen-based loading standards. These regulations, which will take effect in January 2005, will further limit the application of animal waste on an increasingly expensive and diminishing number of farmland acres.
Concerned about these issues, the Land Conservation Department contacted the Sewerage District to discuss forming a partnership exploring the feasibility of composting these organic waste materials. GBMSD is the regional provider of wastewater treatment services and processor of wastewater sludges. Its strategic mission and objectives include watershed protection, provision of regional services, and biosolids initiatives. Retention of existing customer base (i.e., meatpacking industry, animal by-product recycling industry) is also vital to the long-term cost effectiveness of GBMSD. In addition, about 20,000 wet tons of biosolids are generated annually by the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District. Potentially, GBMSD’s waste activated sludge could be composted along with dairy manure from area farmers, paunch manure from the meatpacking industry, animal by-product recycling industry and municipal yard wastes as bulking agents.
The two departments hosted a meeting in January 2004, to determine the interest of potential stakeholders. Dairy farmers, representatives from American Foods Group and Packerland Packing, dairy industry representatives, environmentalists, and state and federal representatives attended the meeting to share information regarding the local management of organic waste and to determine support for creating a joint venture that would address these issues through composting. Participants confirmed their strong support for a regional composting solution and agreed that BCLCD and GBMSD would take a leadership role in: 1) Developing the scope of a feasibility study to provide the preliminary assessment of a composting operation capable of processing a significant portion of the organic waste generated in Brown County; 2) Developing a list of qualified consultants and obtaining an estimate of the cost to conduct the feasibility study; and 3) Soliciting the funding necessary to undertake the study.
The regional composting project will only move forward if a feasibility study shows that it is an economically, operationally, and environmentally viable option. Interest in this project is encouraging and we believe that if the results of the feasibility study are favorable, there is a strong probability that this venture could become a reality.
Therefore, we have engaged Harvey Economics, a Denver consultant, to work with us to conduct a preliminary feasibility assessment study for the composting of dairy farm manure, paunch manure from meatpacking operations, animal by-products, wastewater sludges and municipal yard wastes as bulking agents and the sale of the resulting compost. The Harvey Economics Team is comprised of Harvey, providing the economic focus; Synagro Inc. of Houston, with a marketing and compost product focus; and STS Consulting, a Midwest firm with an office in Green Bay that has environmental permitting knowledge and good rapport with the agricultural community
Stakeholders believe sufficient preliminary work has occurred on alternative technologies and processes to allow this study to focus primarily on financial, operational, marketing and regulatory aspects with composting technology alternatives as a secondary priority. Prior work completed during the 2003 Fox River Valley Organic Recycling (FRVOR) feasibility study will be incorporated into this new study.
The study will assess the economic requirements and impacts of a centralized or multiple compost facility(ies), including but not limited to potential site(s) located on available GBMSD or Brown County land. The compost facility(ies) will be designed to minimize potential odors and nuisances often associated with composting operations. Negative pressure buildings, air cleaning equipment, and agitated bay composting are envisioned. On-farm approaches will utilize manure dewatering and storage technologies with on-site facilities for large dairy farm generators and mobile equipment for dewatering on farms with smaller herd sizes where the on-site economics are not practical.
The outcome of the feasibility study itself will be a final report, due by mid-October 2004, showing whether or not establishing a composting facility is a viable alternative for the management of local organic wastes and what next steps are key to the project’s success. Assessments to measure the outcome of the actual composting facility, once in operation, would include decreased soil phosphorus levels (as measured by compliance with State nutrient management regulations), expansions of area dairy farm operations (as measured by jobs retained or created and head of cattle added), and growth in the local meatpacking industry, (as measured by jobs retained or created and increased sales). Ultimately the quality and clarity of local surface and ground water should be enhanced from reduced soil phosphorus runoff and reduced nitrogen contamination.
Brad Holtz is the agronomist with the Brown County (Wisconsin) Land Conservation in Green Bay, Wisconsin. His e-mail address is He is working closely on this project with Dave Lefebvre ( and Joanne Weycker of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District.

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