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Turning Clippings into Cattle Feed

Landscape business owner and entrepreneur Todd Graus offers beneficial use for lawn waste
By Ron Hall



This grass-based silage produced by the BioPac'r system is being fed to containment cattle under the supervision of University of Wyoming Ag Extension Service.
Grass clippings, what to do with them? Commercial property maintainers produce hundreds of millions of tons of them annually. You don't believe that? The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Production says that a single half-acre lawn in New England produces more than 3 tons of clippings each year. Experts at Colorado State University say 1,000 square feet of Kentucky bluegrass lawn generate about 200 pounds of clippings annually.

The environmentally responsible thing is to leave them on the lawn when you mow. The clippings, about 70 percent water, decompose quickly and return nutrients to the soil. Commercial mower manufacturers offer mulching mowers and mulching kits that make this more practical.

But what if you must remove and dispose of clippings, a considerable expense, because your clients demand it? Isn't it more environmentally friendly to ensile it into a potentially profitable product, food for livestock?

Entrepreneur Todd Graus, president of Green Turf Landscapes, Inc. in Jackson, Wyo., has embarked on perhaps his most ambitious business venture yet as CEO of Yellowstone Compact & Commodities Corp. (YCC). Its goal is to connect the landscape industry with livestock producers. That's right; Graus envisions those millions of tons of grass clippings that are removed from customers' properties being used to feed livestock that ultimately might end up as delicious "grass-fed" steaks on your dinner plate.

Experienced operator

Graus is a Nebraska native who started Green Turf Lawnscapes there in 1983 after working at a nursery and another landscape company. After earning a degree in forestry management and working for the U.S. Forest Service for a year, he reconstituted his former lawn care company in Wyoming in 1997. Green Turf Lawnscapes is the largest green industry company of its kind in the state and provides services in an area encompassing a quarter of Wyoming.

Several years ago he came up with the Green Applicator Training website (greenapplicator.com), which offers pesticide safety training videos, some of them produced by Graus' company, in effect a certification test that can be taken and graded online. It's an alternative for landscape companies that can't afford to send their employees to conferences.

Greenapplicator.com started as a standard company page for advertising purposes, but Graus was being stretched between his company's two offices (Worland and Cheyenne, Wyo.) for his company's regular pesticide safety meetings. To solve this problem, he began recording training sessions with a camcorder and sent them to the other office for employees to watch.

He hired a professional videographer to shoot the sessions, and the idea arose to put the training video on a website rather than mailing it to the other office. That way employees could sit down in front of the computer when they had some free time and get their safety lesson. Graus then developed a safety test for employees to take. They would score what they had learned and eventually earn a certificate of achievement. Why not offer the training videos to other applicators across the country, he asked? He got in contact with an experienced software developer, and they put together the www.greenapplicator.com curriculum.


Patent-pending process

Graus is also the inventor of the BioPac'r, a landscape waste compactor designed to convert lawn clippings into a safe, dependable supply of "Grass Clipping Silage T." He says his patent-pending fermenting process turns grass into feed-grade silage. Currently the grass-based silage is being fed to containment cattle in Wyoming under the supervision of the University of Wyoming Ag Extension Service.

Graus explains that the BioPac'r, powered by a high-torque electric motor, slides into the bed of a pickup, flatbed or trailer and is fully self-contained. The two deep-cycle batteries that power the motor can be recharged by an optional solar panel mounted on the unit or plugged into an electrical outlet once a week.


Yellowstone Compact & Commodities will broker the 800- to 1,500-pound silage bales between the owners of BioPac'r to end users desiring this product.
IMAGES COURTESY OF TODD GRAUS

Graus says that when grass clippings are exposed to oxygen, the biomass breaks down into a compost-like product. When air is eliminated through compaction by the devise as the mower is emptied, the clippings can then become Grass Clipping Silage T in about 28 days. The anaerobic ensiling process breaks down popular herbicides that are applied to residential and commercial lawns, says Graus.

He says that Yellowstone Compact & Commodities will broker the 800- to 1,500-pound silage bales between the owners of a BioPac'r and end users desiring this product. Grass Clipping Silage T has a potential shelf life of several years compared to just a few days of its fresh counterpart. The resulting product can be used as livestock feed, feedstock to fuel pellet manufacturers and the feedstock for biological gas (methane) producers in commercial bio-methane digesters. Yellowstone Compact & Commodities will continue to educate and recommend to lawn maintenance companies, YCC approved lawn care products to achieve the goal of an even safer feed product.

Ron Hall is the editor-in-chief of Turf magazine and has been an editor in the landscape services industry for more than 28 years. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.