The process for Nebraska producers is cyclical: grow the crops, feed them to your livestock, then use that livestock waste as fertilizer for the next round of crops. But some producers are now taking that sustainable process one step further.
The idea seems simple enough.
"We're taking raw manure from the buildings and it flows into this pit over here and we're pumping that into this tank," Big Valley Pork Owner/Operator Mark Mchargue says.
UNL Extension Educator Crystal Powers says eventually that manure produces methane.
"We're in turn using it to fire a boiler that keeps keeps it hot and any excess energy we can burn an engine, produce electricity, or use it to heat our barns in the winter time," Mchargue says.
Energize Nebraska Director Ed Toribio says t's a process that truly makes a full circle.
"It's waste that is there and why not use it to create something that will benefit the farmer and the community," Toribio says.
But Mchargue's operation is just one of two in Nebraska using this methane biodigester system.
Mchargue says one reason for that is the expense of installing the system. Toribio adds there aren't a lot of resources in Nebraska for producers looking to implement renewable energy sources on their farms. But he hopes that's beginning to change.
"Methane digesters were made to focus on large operations," Toribio says. "But now, the technology is expanding and it's creating more opportunities for middle and small size farms."
Mchargue says his small operation was able to use a smaller tank and more common materials to create their own smaller scale system. It's a process he says other small operations could replicate and implement.
Toribio says after the initial investment, it can be a big cost savings to the farmer.
"It will help them save money in electricity and fertilizer," Toribio says. "That will create a more sustainable operation because they're recycling the waste that they have."
Mchargue says it's a chance for him to create more sustainability within his operation.
"This is just one more step that we can do as our livestock operation to both be good to the environment, protect our ground water and our land and the crops that we grow," Mchargue says.