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Nebraska Dairy Seeks Food Waste to Expand Composting

November 14, 2013

A dairy farm in southern Lancaster County, Neb., wants to expand its composting operation by accepting food waste from area schools, villages and possibly from Lincoln.

"We're trying to get into the forefront of what I think is going to make a great business model," said Dan Rice, general manager of Prairieland Dairy.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that model is based on his belief that combining manure from hundreds of dairy cows with tons of food waste makes much better compost than using dairy waste alone.

Prairieland Dairy at 13000 Pella Road has been composting dairy waste since 2002, selling the natural product to farmers, gardeners and greenhouses. Compost is made from decayed organic material, looks like soil and is used as fertilizer.

Rice is asking for a permit from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to expand the annual waste capacity of his composting operation from 10,000 cubic yards to no more than 100,000 cubic yards.

He also seeks a zoning change from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission that would allow a large-scale composting operation in an agricultural district and a special permit from the county to operate the expanded site.

Sara Hartzell, a county planner, said zoning regulations contain provisions for composting activities associated with public landfills but they do not address commercial composting on farms.

"If you can't do composting in an agricultural district, where would they recommend us doing that?" Rice asked.

New language for an amendment that will address composting in agricultural districts is being drafted with the help of the Health Department, Building and Safety and the county engineer's office, she said.

The Planning Commission is set to discuss the amendment and a special permit for Prairieland Dairy's composting site on Nov. 27. The Lancaster County Board has final approval on both issues.

Notices of the proposed zoning change have been sent to residents within a mile of the dairy farm and the village of Firth, which is about three miles away.

Earlier this year, a composting operation in western Cass County near the Platte River ran into problems when it sought permission to expand to take in tons of food waste. Neighbors of a nearby lake development complained, and the operator scaled back his plans.

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