Sustainability for the Real World

Bio Town Ag
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Bio Town Ag is a multi-generational farm located in rural Indiana, in the heartland of America. The production farm and livestock operation is home to 4500 head of beef cattle and over 800 head of sow and swine. It has proven to be an exceptional example of what it means to be a good environmental steward, putting a philosophy for a more sustainable world into action!
In addition to bringing an exceptional quality of meat products to market, Bio Town Ag is creating and adopting practical sustainable solutions for the real world.

Developed from the philosophy that we have the potential to adopt more sustainable practices in our everyday lives, Bio Town Ag has identified and developed several innovative ways to employ these principles on a larger scale. Its goal is to lessen or eliminate adverse environmental impacts, improve output, create new value streams, and take part in the creation of a greener future.

Bio Town Ag sustainable initiatives date back to 1995, when it made the choice to integrate food by-products with its hormone-free, antibiotic-free livestock feed. The use of food by-products, otherwise considered organic waste, was promoted as a concept by the state in 2005, and Bio Town Ag has taken its commitment to sustainability in agricultural production processes to the next level.

To turn the state’s vision into a reality, Bio Town Ag found ways to extract more value from diverted waste streams. Its efforts have generated energy for its own operations and the neighboring town of Reynolds, Indiana, also known as Bio Town, USA.

“Bio Town was a concept that was introduced by Governor Mitch Daniels back in 2005,” said Brian Furrer, president of Bio Town Ag, “It was to have a community that would be powered by energy produced from livestock waste.”

The philosophy of sustainability is truly a cause about which Bio Town Ag is passionate. “We believe this is the future of agriculture – that we all need to learn to do things smarter, healthier, better, more efficiently, and recycling should be a natural part of that.”

At Bio Town Ag, its sophisticated, closed-loop, agricultural production cycle wastes absolutely nothing. It has the capacity to produce 120 kWh of renewable energy with the five generators on site which is the equivalent power required for 4000 homes or more than two times Bio Town’s energy demands.

Each year, Bio Town Ag prevents 44,000 tons of CO₂ emissions and keeps 128,000 tons of waste from landfills and 36.5 million gallons of wastewater from treatment plants. It reduces the depletion of NPK resources (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), preventing 7,000 tons of these resources from being mined each year.

How is this all possible when feed crop agriculture and livestock production is regarded as one of the most significant contributors to environmental degradation in terms of emissions, pollution, and loss of biodiversity?

Bio Town Ag is home to the world’s largest on-farm anaerobic digester which has the capacity to produce more electricity than any other on-farm digester in the world. This digester, from DVO Anaerobic Digesters, takes organic waste and converts it into energy, fertilizer, and soil, leaving nothing to waste.

Bio Town Ag is continually finding ways to revolutionize its operations. The farm sets an example of a viable, sustainable system of production which could represent a significant shift in the entire livestock and agricultural production arena. The philosophy behind it defines new best practices that result in an innovative, effective business model and a more sustainable way of life.

Bio Town Ag is taking value creation through sustainability a step further, identifying on-farm and additional waste streams that can be used in its operations. “When I talk about synergistic impacts, I mean that not only will it generate a new stream of revenue, it will make the existing things we are already doing more effective.”

With the help of Back 2 Earth, the first and only independent, fully-integrated, industrial-sized recycling operation for the disposal of organic by-products, Bio Town Ag identified outside sources of waste to optimizing the use of its digester. Bio Town Ag receives organic by-products and waste from neighboring industries within a hundred-mile radius, reducing those industries’ need to deal with waste and creating value at the same time.

The waste, including food-grade by-products from local food producers and grocery stores, is either incorporated into the livestock feed (which will eventually make its way to the digester by way of animal waste) or sent directly to the digester, a win-win for companies who are also working towards fulfilling sustainability goals by reducing the waste being created in their own processes.

“To us,” Furrer said, “Sustainability is creating a never ending supply, so any time you can take waste and make it a part of a cycle that never stops and make another product in the process, that is true sustainability.”

Bio Town Ag’s digester is supplying a great deal of energy to the grid. The digester, mimicking the actions of a cow’s stomach, takes the rerouted waste streams that would have otherwise ended up in rivers and landfills in a 7.2 million-gallon tank on site. The tank is teeming with live bacteria that are ready to further break down the organic by-products in an anaerobic environment (completely free from air).

The waste and bacteria produce methane gas through the process. The gas is then cleaned, prepped and piped, and other beneficial materials are processed by a mechanical separator. One of these materials is an organic, nutrient-rich slurry and solid form of fertilizer. The remaining solids are used for bedding in the beef barns.

The fertilizer and water that has been recycled in this process are then applied to the fields, replenishing the soil. Farmland is stripped of micronutrients over time by modern agricultural practices, including the increased use of NPK fertilizers.

“You can only use crude once,” stated Furrer, “You can use potassium and phosphorus and many of the other nutrients necessary for life and plant growth an unlimited amount of times. You just have to get better at recycling them.”

Unlike commercial fertilizers with an NPK formulation, Bio Town Ag’s natural fertilizers contain a number of micronutrients that are found naturally in the soil such as sulphur, zinc, and magnesium. The micronutrients result in high-yielding, organic, and nutritious crops, that are then fed to the livestock to produce the highest-quality meats available. The animal waste then returns to the earth following the perpetual motion of the closed-loop system.

Always trying to find new ways to eliminate waste and create value, Furrer and Bio Town Ag have plans to further develop the synergistic model. Recently, an engineer was hired with the sole focus of finding a way to produce pork in a more sustainable fashion. The new pork production system borrows from the current one to achieve sustainability on a larger scale.

“Bio Town Ag is always evolving and moving,” explained Furrer. “Our engines, like most reciprocating engines, are only about forty percent efficient. That means that sixty percent of our heat is lost, and that equates to about thirty million BTUs per hour. We need a way to capture that heat, and the kinds of things we are talking about are horticulture, aquaculture, or even algae production.”

Bio Town Ag is a living example of sustainability at every stage of its closed-loop cycle. The cycle, from material handling and livestock production to anaerobic digestion, power generation, water recycling, natural fertilizer creation and application and forage crop production, is helping to make a greener world a living reality, proving to be an encouraging innovation in agriculture and livestock production.

At Bio Town Ag, there exists a passion, supported by ambition and drive, to find new and exciting ways to create new revenue streams while adopting more sustainable principles and processes.

The opportunities and potential are endless at Bio Town Ag. Whether the next step is retail potting soil, an on-site greenhouse, the future possibility of an ethanol plant, or a high-nutrient fish farm, Bio Town Ag is leading the sustainability charge, doing good work and enjoying exceptional results.



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