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In the near future, farmers may have more to sell than just milk, corn and soybeans.

Their next money-maker might be energy.

A conference to be held in Stevens Point in January will look at ways small and medium farms can use methane digesters to generate not only electricity, but revenue.

"Quite simply, the conference focus is how to make money from manure," said Timm Johnson, executive director of the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative.

Digesters take manure and then decompose it. A product of this decomposition is methane gas.

Some farms equipped with digesters take the methane and then use it to power an electric generator and sell the electricity.

Johnson said that while electricity is the primary option for digesters, the January conference will focus on using the methane for such things as heating farm facilities by burning it like natural gas, using it to power vehicles and to heat animal bedding.

One of the individuals speaking at the conference will be John Vrieze, owner of Vrieze Farms in Baldwin.

Vrieze uses his digester to produce methane gas. Once the gas is produced it is scrubbed to remove the hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. The gas is then sent into a natural gas pipeline and sold to a gas company.

What Vrieze is proposing is a bio-gas pipeline to link all the various methane producers in an area.

"In this area we have half a dozen methane producers such as farms, water treatment plants and landfills," said Vrieze. "You collect all of their bio-gas and ship it to the natural gas pipeline and then scrub it all at once."

With the carbon dioxide byproduct Vrieze proposes creating create oil using algae to eat the carbon dioxide and then squeeze the oil from the algae.

He said he is working on a prototype to do that now.

"I'm just starting, but I hope to have it completed by Christmas," Vrieze said.

Vrieze said he hopes to do things on a farm scale, which means creating about 80 gallons of bio-fuel. That's what his farm vehicles use in one day.

He added that he is not getting any government grants for his projects, nor has he tried.

"As far as grant money, we are just kind of doing it on our own," Vrieze said. "Sometimes our business projects move faster than government can keep up."

He did add that some microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin have been interested in his project.

Johnson said that the methane gas itself can be used to power vehicles.

"A standard vehicle could be retrofitted to run on methane, much like propane-powered buses," Johnson said.

He acknowledged that one problem to be overcome would be the lack of filling stations, but for farm vehicles it would be perfect.

The conference is being sponsored by the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

More information on the conference and how to register is available on the DATCP Web site at Interested individuals can register online for the conference or call 608-224-5041.

Brady Bautch can be contacted at