A New Spin on agriculture: Landscaping professional sees opportunities in ensiled grass clippingsWritten by Saige Albert
Jackson – A July 2012 report by IBIS World noted that the landscaping industry boasted an economic footprint of $61 billion. Furthermore, NASA mapping shows turf grass is the number one irrigated crop in America, covering 35 million acres. Wyomingite Todd Graus, owner of Yellowstone Compact and Commodities Corp (YCC), sees potential for harnessing the value in this industry and connecting it to livestock feeding.
“I’ve owned a chemical lawn care company for 33 years,” Graus says.
When the economy melted down in 2008, he was asked by clients to mow their lawns, as well as fertilize, so he bought a few mowers, thinking, “How hard can it be to mow lawns?”
“The first day we mowed, my guys finished up at the end of the day by taking the lawn clippings to the dump to get rid of them,” he explains. “It took two hours for two men to make the roundtrip to the landfill – or four man hours.”
With landfill charges reaching $90 per ton, in addition to the $80 in labor per person, disposal of lawn clippings cost his business $370 per day.
“I didn’t expect that kind of expense,” Graus continues, noting that at that point, he immediately began pursuing a system to produce silage from lawn clippings.
Today, Graus has a patent pending on his packaging and unique biological system, which creates silage from grass clippings, and at the same time he has research that this process has the ability to breakdown pesticide residue previously applied to the lawns.
Graus’ device, called a BioPac’r, facilitates the packaging of grass clippings generated by residential users, landscapers, golf courses, municipalities, etc.
“Throughout the day, landscapers can throw clippings inside the BioPac’r, which fits in the back of a pickup truck or trailer,” he explains. “It has a capacity of 2,000 pounds of clippings.”
The machine then compresses grass clippings, eliminating oxygen from the bale.
“The clippings are then packaged into a poly-lined sack that prevents air from getting into the mixture,”
The bag is zip-tied closed and stored.
Graus says, “Once the little bit of oxygen is depleted by a minor amount of heat production, the bag goes anaerobic, and the lawn clipping ensiling process begins.”
“The BioPac’r system is the world’s first portable ensiling system,” he adds.
“Last year was our first year building and distributing machines nationwide,” he says.
Graus also eluded to the fact that they are actively looking for potential distributors to carry the BioPac’r line.
Finding a market
Graus notes that, after producing the lawn clipping silage, YCC connects with farmers to provide a viable, local feedstuff for cattle.
“When we sell a machine, we locate farmers in the area, show them the feed analysis and ask if they are interested in feeding this,” he says.
Lawn clippings, Graus explains, are similar to the grasses found in mountain meadows and pastures across much of the state, with the difference being that lawns are fertilized more regularly, providing a higher density of nutrients.
The lawn clipping silage also has a high water content, so environmentally speaking, “This is also a good way for us to reclaim irrigation water,” he says. “When our cows eat wet feed, their water demands go down.”
In addition to providing a source of water, Graus notes that feed analyses that have been completed show similar nutrient concentration to alfalfa, with energy almost as high as corn.
On a dry basis, one feed analysis provided showed 19 percent crude protein and 65.1 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN), with a Relative Feed Value of 135.
“God willing, this has the potential to change the world,” Graus says. “Lawn clipping silage is an entirely new commodity market.”
Graus is currently working on a USDA grant to continue to improve product distribution and prove the benefits of their supply chain.
“We are going to prove how this supply chain can help a small farmer,” he adds. “A young couple can get started on just a little bit of land with this silage.”
A two-man mowing crew can process up to five bags weekly but most companies have several crews, Graus says, which could easily supply a small feeding operation.
Lawn clipping silage is an inexpensive feed because homeowners pay to seed the crop, feed the crop, maintain the crop and then pay a landscaper to harvest their crop and cart it off. The best aspect to this crop is that lawns get watered even during the droughts, which makes this particular product sustainable, he adds.
“From a marketing standpoint, this beef could be marketed as local, grass-fed beef,” he explains. “Local is one of the most sought-after marketing claims lately.” Graus also emphasizes that lawn clipping silage has the potential to compete against distiller’s grains for a high-protein, affordable cattle feed product.
“I can also see the turf industry reinventing itself,” he says. “Grass isn’t just something we stand or play on in our backyards anymore. Let’s view it as any other crop, harvest it and assist farmers to become more sustainable.”
This opportunity also provides benefits for landscapers who are currently paying landfills to dispose of grass clippings. Graus says they will now be able to market livestock feed and turn grass clippings into profit rather than a liability.
Connecting the public to ag
At the same time, turning grass clippings into livestock feed connects urbanites to the agriculture industry, a connection that many beef associations are also trying to make, Graus says.
“This really creates a relationship between landscapers and farmers,” says University of Wyoming Extension Educator Hudson Hill, “and it may even provide opportunities for smaller farmers to diversify and add a landscaping component to their business.”
“A farmer or rancher might buy a $16,000 machine and give it to the landscaper, who saves between $12,000 and $15,000 a year just from not going to the landfill,” Graus says. “Here in Jackson Hole, the transfer station receives about 3,000 tons a year of grass clippings from landscapers. It’s not unrealistic that small towns across the state could generate 1,000 tons of lawn clipping silage per 5,000 population.”
Golf courses, landscapers and municipalities all provide potential sources of feed.
Graus comments, “This is a big opportunity, and it’s got lots of traction and potential.”