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Group seeks permission to construct large dairy near Pennock

PENNOCK -- A limited liability partnership is hoping to begin construction yet this fall on a large dairy feedlot planned for St. Johns Township, about two miles southwest of Pennock and about five miles from the western edge of Willmar.

Meadow Star Dairy, with a milking herd of 5,660 cows, could be operating by next summer, according to Kim Larson, of Willmar, and Nate Hultgren, of Raymond. Both men are directors for the partnership.

The dairy, planned for a 160-acre parcel of land owned by the Hultgren family in Section 8 of the township, will include multiple buildings to house the cows in a free-stall barn, two calf barns and a milking parlor/cow holding area. In addition to the milking herd, there is expected to be 340 heifers and 3,590 calves at the site.

The site is also planned to include two 20-foot-deep-by-575-foot-long-by-500-foot wide earthen manure storage basins and a methane digester that will create electricity from the manure.

The environmental assessment worksheet, the review process by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, has been completed. Representatives from the dairy expect the operation's conditional use permit to come before the Kandiyohi County Planning and Zoning board on Oct. 13 and the county board of commissioners soon thereafter.

Between 35 and 40 people would work full time at the dairy, which would be under what Larson calls the "umbrella management" of Riverview Farms of Morris, which manages six other similar dairies in the area. Other than that management, Meadow Star would be remain autonomous and make its own decisions, he added.

The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission's Agriculture and Renewable Energy Development Committee sponsored a Monday tour bus that traveled to West River Dairy, a similar operation to that proposed for Meadow Star. The tour included EDC officials, planning and zoning officials and township supervisors. However, none of the county commissioners attended.

Gary Fehr, CEO of Riverview Farms, guided the tour through the 6,660-cow dairy which also houses calves. On an annual basis, the dairy uses corn silage from 3,200 acres, haylage from 1,500 acres and straw from 2,600 acres. The milk produced at the dairy is processed into cheese at the Valley Queen plant in Milbank, S.D.

"Almost all of our feed is produced within 10 miles of the farm," Fehr said. The farm employs 42 people, with crews of five workers milking the cows twice a day in an 80-head carousel parlor. All animals are identified by radio frequency identification tags and bred using artificial insemination. Heifer calves are backgrounded at a feedlot in South Dakota and return to the dairy to join the milking herd.

A methane digester is being installed at West River Dairy. The manure produced by the cows is expected to generate 2 megawatts of power per hour, which will be sold to Great River Energy. The expectation is that the digester will be operational in as soon as three weeks, Fehr said.

The ownership of the Meadow Star Dairy has not yet been determined, Hultgren said. He expects it to be 15 to 20 farm families in the Raymond and Pennock areas who will grow forages to feed the cattle and use Meadow Star's manure to fertilize their crop land.

The dairy will also contract with neighboring farmers to produce the 3,500 acres of corn silage and 1,500 acres of haylage needed to feed the herd. Dried distillers grains, the byproduct of ethanol production, is also expected to be used in the feed, along with supplements from local feed supply sources. The cattle are expected to produce 36 semi tankers of milk each week.

The farm plans incorporate a methane digester to supply green power back to the community and to control odor, Larson said.

"From day one, it has been our intent to cover the lagoon and incorporate a methane digester," he said. "It is perceived by the public as integral to minimizing odor."

Hultgren, who lives very near the proposed building site, has been talking with neighbors, who have been supportive.

"We are going our best to inform them that these (the managers) are first class operators," he said. "We haven't met opposition that has been vehemently opposed."

Farmers in the area have been interested, because the dairy provides another competitive local market for their grain, Hultgren. "It doesn't have to go on a barge somewhere."