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Turkey power!

The manure from the Turkey Store Company's farm near New Richmond is making western Minnesota homes a little brighter.

Since last June, the farm along County Road A has been shipping tons of "turkey litter" to an electrical generation plant in Benson, Minn. The litter includes a combination of turkey manure and bedding material, such as wood chips, feathers, seed shells and spilled feed.

The Benson plant, which was constructed by Fibrowatt Ltd., a British corporation, currently burns 500,000 tons of turkey litter a year along with 100,000 to 200,000 tons of crops and/or agricultural wastes. The plant is the first of its kind in the U.S, but similar facilities are proposed for other turkey and poultry producing states.

The Benson plant generates enough electricity for about 50,000 homes. Plant officials claim turkey litter is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal and it does not contribute to global warming. Three tons of turkey litter can generate as much electricity as a ton of coal.

The ash resulting after the litter is burned is turned into zero-nitrogen fertilizer for land application.

Before the farm shipped its litter to Benson, much of the byproduct was spread on local farmland to enrich the soil, according to Jennie-O spokesperson Pat Solheid.

Some will continue to be spread on area farms, but the vast majority of the litter is now sold to the power plant and shipped to that location in semi-trucks.

"Calling it waste would be to imply that it has no value," she said. "Turkey litter is not waste -- it's a byproduct of turkey production. Turkey litter is a valuable resource."

Jennie-O operates or contracts with some 67 farms in a nine-county area of western Wisconsin. About 130,000 tons of turkey litter is generated annually by the farms.

Even though the New Richmond farm has had few complaints when manure is spread on local fields, several times a year the stink in New Richmond was strong when the wind was in the right direction.

As less litter is applied to area land, the odor issues should be reduced.

The Turkey Store Company farm was originally the Doughboy research farm. It was purchased by Jerome Foods (now Jennie-O Turkey Store) in 1979 and has been part of that organization ever since.

Jennie-O currently employs 7,000 people throughout the nation.