The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service recognized a Fremont city official Thursday for his efforts in instituting a biosolids distribution program with area crop producers.
Extension Educator Dave Varner presented the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Dodge County Extension Agriculture Education Programming to Wastewater Plant Superintendent Keith Kontor during a crop production clinic at the Midland University Event Center.
"Keith initiated a partnership with the local Extension program in 2000 seeking an opportunity to recycle City of Fremont wastewater treatment sludge into farmland fertilizer," Varner said. "He approached the Extension asking for help in developing and managing the Fremont Biosolids Farmland Application program.
"Over the past decade demand has steadily grown for the product and the program has an excellent track record with both farmers and non-farm rural residents," he said.
Kontor, who has worked in wastewater treatment for 25 years and been at Fremont's plant for 11 years, was involved in a similar program previously in Saline County, Varner added.
"For me, coming in and trying to work with the farmers is difficult because I don't know the farm side of things as well as the Extension educator does," Kontor said. "So we approached them as a city to do a cooperative agreement and work together with Dave rounding up the farmers.
"It's just kind of elevated from there," he said. "The first year we probably had three or four farmers that were even interested in it. Now we've got them lining up at the door wanting it because we've been able to show progressive yields, fantastic yields actually, compared to purchased fertilizer.
"Up until this last year, we were supplying the biosolids, we were hauling it out to the fields and we were spreading it for the farmers," Kontor said. "This last year we started charging the farmers ... which was still substantially below the purchased fertilizer they could get. We showed them the cost savings of what they would have to put on compared to what we'd be charging."
Fremont biosolids are only available to Dodge County farmers.
Varner said it's "a win-win program" for Fremont and the farmers.
"Fremont citizens save close to $200,000 annually in wastewater treatment fees as a result of this program and farmers reap the benefits of more than $75,000 in fertilizer value annually," Varner said.
Costs recouped by the city as a result of the program encompass the process for creating biosolids and disposal, Kontor explained.
"When I first got here we changed the way we process our biosolids," he said. "We used to haul everything out in a liquid in a tank wagon and spread it on ground. We were hauling out 66,000 gallons a day."
In 2001, the city completed a $20 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, changing the way biosolids are created and "drying down" the final product.
"Before, we were hauling out about 1 to 1.5 percent solids and 98 percent water. Now we're hauling anywhere from 25 to 50 percent solids, so we've decreased the amount of water we're hauling. The more liquid you haul, the more your hauling costs are," he said.
Varner said the 2,500 to 3,000 tons a year of product created today, "is nothing short of potting soil, it's a tremendous product."
"Keith has maintained excellent quality control of the biosolids product and has done everything Extension has asked of him and more to accommodate area farmers. He's been instrumental in the program's success which is recognized statewide," he said.