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Revier Cattle completing expansion near Olivia, Minn., after delay that led to revised plans

Tom Revier describes progress to expand the Revier Cattle feedlot operation in Renville County to visiting officials with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Agriculture on Dec. 1 during a tour. Construction began Aug. 1 and is nearing completion. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

OLIVIA -- Just as they had everything lined up and ready to go, world financial markets erupted in turmoil with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

Although nearly 1,500 miles separate them from Wall Street, brothers Tom Revier and Dave Revier were forced to put plans on hold to expand their cattle feedlot in Renville County into one of the state's largest.

Saying "whoa'' at the time was one of the best things that could have happened, Tom Revier told visitors from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Agriculture last week. The Reviers used the additional time to tour facilities in Europe and Canada and revise plans for their own operation.

Three and a half years after getting the regulatory permits needed, construction is now nearing completion on expanding the Norfolk Township operation in Renville County from 4,500 head of cattle to 10,500.

Two large confinement barns -- each capable of holding 3,000 head of cattle -- are taking shape on the Revier Cattle property south of Olivia.

The barns were planned from the start. It's what is under each that is completely different from what was originally planned, thanks to the time they invested in rethinking the project.

The original plans called for deep-pit waste storage systems, not unlike those used in modern hog barns.

But Revier said they learned that the animal wastes are too valuable a byproduct to keep in storage, where chemical changes occur in them. By treating the manure when it is a fresh product, they will be able to remove the water from it and separate the valuable nitrogen and other plant nutrient and soil-building ingredients.

All of the animal wastes from the new barns, partial confinement and open pens are being collected by a gravity fed system. It is purposely engineered so that in the future, Revier Cattle will be able to take advantage of what he called the "back-end opportunities" that had been treated as a cost rather than resource.

There are decisions yet to be made. The wastes could be fed to a digester and the resulting methane used as fuel to produce electricity.

Or perhaps more likely, the nitrogen will be extracted and sold to farmers for its fertilizer value. The equally valuable solids -- which help build soils while adding fertility -- could be bagged and sold for use on golf courses and lawns.

Original permits for the operation estimated that the feedlot would handle 11 million gallons of manure, or 18,000 tons each year. It's comparable to handling the wastes of a small city.

Thanks to the new system, Revier said they expect that odors from the 10,500-head operation will be less than what has been experienced with 4,500 head.

The changes increased the capital required for the expansion. Also, the work that was launched on Aug. 1 came immediately after the company suffered two major unexpected setbacks. The extreme heat of July resulted in the loss of 477 head of cattle. In 21 years in the business, Revier said he could count on one hand the number of cattle the company may have ever lost to heat stress.

It was the July heat that also sent a wave of thunderstorms through Renville County packing 100 mile-an-hour, straight-line winds. The winds destroyed a couple of buildings on the site.

Despite those challenges, Revier noted that there is plenty of reason for optimism.

World demand for protein continues to grow. The cattle moved to market from this operation are Midwestern born and raised, but a growing share of the meat is finding its way to overseas tables.

Revier said Minnesota is rich in feedstuffs. The poultry and swine industries create strong demands for feeds that can be moved through augers, such as soybean meal and distillers dried grains. The beef industry is able to take advantage of the lesser demand for wet feeds, he said.

The family-owned operation includes both the feedlot and crop production and has 20 employees. That number is expected to remain the same when the expansion is completed, he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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