Farmers and technology types gather in Wisconsin's capitol city to "explore the profit potential for cow manure."

The Second Annual Manure Bio-Conversion Technology Conference examines new ways to use waste matter. "Looking at how do we explore other avenues of looking at getting profit from cow manure besides just applying it back in the land and yet being very cognizant of the use of recycling those nutrients for crop production, as well."

Timm Johnson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative, says a popular item is the manure digester, which uses bacteria to create methane. "And the methane is actually harvested to be used as a renewable source of fuel to turn a generator to create electricity."

Johnson says they'll hear from representatives of a handful of larger farms that currently use manure digesters to create electricity. He says one particular 35-hundred cow operation with two locations — a digester at each — produces a lot of juice. "I think their experiences … they're probably producing somewhere between maybe enough electricity for 2,000 to 2,500 homes on a daily basis just from those two farms alone."

Although, Johnson says, a manure digester is an extremely large investment, about a million dollars, and the question of how much the utility company is willing to pay to buy back that electricity. Some farms might think about joining forces to acquire a community digester. At the conference, Johnson says, they'll also discuss producing a pipeline-quality gas from manure that can be used for industrial uses. Or, creating hydrogen that can be used for transportation. Johnson says they'll explore making some other nontraditional products from manure, like plastics and wafer boards for construction purposes.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report (1:56 MP3)

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