Dodge County, Minnesota brothers Ben and Jay Currier improved their dairy farm’s efficiency, optimized the fertilizer it produces and played a role in protecting the Mississippi River when they installed a new manure pit last fall.
The new pit enabled them to increase manure storage capacity to a full year’s worth of waste. The added storage eliminated the need for weekly hauling and spreading on the 200-acre farm where they milk nearly 100 cows and raise heifers. The project also made it possible to avoid spreading manure in the winter and early spring, when it is most easily carried off by snowmelt and runoff causing negative impacts downstream.
The Currier brothers’ feedlot project was one of four funded through the Mississippi River Feedlot Management in Minnesota Regional Conservation Partnership Program project.
Federal funding for the RCPP came from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources contributed Clean Water Funds.
“We were able to leverage both state and federal dollars to really provide some vital financial assistance to some dairy operators at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of profit margin in dairies,” said Rochester-based BWSR Board Conservationist Dave Copeland, who served as the state’s administrative coordinator for the RCPP. “(The dairies) had some issues they needed to address to reduce or minimize the environmental impacts from their operation. We had producers that wanted to do the right thing, they just needed some help.”
The Currier brothers’ 1.4-million-gallon storage pit, sloped cement cattle yard and low cement diversion wall were completed in October 2020. The berm was seeded that December. A storage tank for milk house wastewater, which now outlets into the pit, eliminated a potential source of groundwater contamination and gutters divert rainwater from barn roofs.
“By allowing the Curriers to use their manure as a nutrient source instead of a waste product, there’s a lot more control going into where and when that manure is applied. That will really allow for it to be used by the plants in the field rather than having a fallow area where they spread manure for the entire summer and over-apply,” said Blaine Delzer, the Dodge Soil and Water Conservation District feedlot technician. Delzer worked with the Curriers to develop a manure management plan and apply for funds.
By late May, the new pit held nearly seven months’ worth of manure. Built-in emergency storage makes it possible to exceed the 1.4-million-gallon, 7-foot-deep mark if unexpected circumstances prevent it from being emptied within 12 months. The pit is built to hold 200,000 gallons and withstand a once-every-25-years rain.
“Having manure storage allows the farmer to have a way to use it as a nutrient, and saves them money on the bottom line, plus takes care of that potential problem in the springtime when things are heating up and people are doing a daily scrape-and-haul,” said Peter Fryer, the Chatfield-based Technical Service Area 7 lead engineer who designed the project.
A total of eight feedlot projects, including the Currier’s feedlot, have been constructed with four receiving federal funding and four constructed with state and landowner contributions. Combined they are estimated to help reduce the pollution flowing into nearby Mississippi River tributaries by 182 pounds of nitrogen and 47 pounds of phosphorus each year. The work also addresses E. coli.