Enterprise Nursery Madrid, NE

Technology and a motivated team help keep this nursery site in tune with the environment.

When you view a sunset from Joyce and Gary Cullen's home, your view is as wide as the western sky. Their home is in the sparsely populated Sand Hills of western Nebraska, a few miles from the little town of Madrid.

The Enterprise Nursery site consists of two, 21-room, environmentally controlled buildings. The site is permitted for 15,960 head raised from about 14 lb. to 55 lb.

The Cullen's home sits just south of Enterprise Nursery 1 that Joyce manages for NPP, LLC, a Columbus, NE, pork production firm. She has a reputation for attention to details and for keeping her nursery spotless, as does Regina Berry, who manages the identical Enterprise 2 nursery unit just 700 yards east.

Gary Cullen is known for keeping the grass around Enterprise Nursery mowed like a country club. There's even a shooting range out back that he keeps manicured, where family zeroes in their rifles and friends who may want to break a few clay pigeons can find entertainment.

While the nursery buildings provide a home for pigs, the landscaped grounds around the buildings provide a resort-like setting for the folks who live and work around the Enterprise Nursery site.

“It's a pleasant location,” Joyce Cullen says. “We're so isolated, it makes for a very peaceful place to be.”

The pigs that reside in these nursery buildings are destined to become replacement gilts in the NPP system.

“Enterprise Nursery is not only at the top of the pyramid when it comes to genetics and health,” says Scott Burroughs, NPP's chief operating officer. “It's also a model for aesthetics and environmental quality. Taking the extra steps to maintain the grounds like a golf course is what makes the difference between good managers and great managers.”

Full-circle fertility

Manure management is designed to capture the value of fertilizer nutrients from the site and put them to their best use by applying them through a pair of center-pivot irrigation circles.

“The land here is rolling sand, with 3% to 10% slope,” says John Csukker, NPP environmental manager. “With these sandy soils, manure-derived nutrients are an ideal fit, as they can be applied during the growing season as the crop requires. When nutrients are applied to sandy soils in spring or fall, there's always a risk they will leach from the soil.”

There's also a powerful economic payback for capturing the nutrients. During the 2007 crop year, the applied effluent provided 50% of the corn crop's nitrogen requirement, 50% of its phosphorous and 100% of the potassium on the nearly 260 acres being watered by the two pivots. That adds up to at least $118/acre in fertilizer value at today's commercial fertilizer prices.

The Enterprise nursery buildings are set up with shallow, 24-in.-deep, pull-plug pits. Enterprise 1 drains to a lift station, and then is pumped to the lagoon. Since Enterprise 2 is located near the lagoon, it simply gravity feeds into the structure.

NPP Ag Operations Director Gale Schafer points out that the lagoon is managed as a true treatment system, not just a manure storage pond. “It's designed to treat waste, to break down solids, not just store it,” he says. “Plugs are pulled on a regular schedule so as not to slug-load the lagoon, but to keep feeding it regularly. That stimulates the proper growth of bacteria to digest solids more completely and break them down better.”

The anaerobic lagoon was designed to provide 10% more storage volume than what was required by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The lagoon also is double-lined. A 12-in. clay liner was incorporated into the lagoon design, but NPP added an additional ring of 30-ml high-density polyethylene. This helps prevent any erosion on the banks of the lagoon and serves as a weed barrier as well.

Application takes place through the center pivots using low-pressure drop hoses that can place effluent at or below the crop canopy, which helps reduce evaporation losses and holds down any odor.

The pivots are not connected to any fresh water source during application for maximum safety. When the pivot is switched from water to effluent irrigation, the hose from the irrigation well is removed and set aside, and a different hose carrying effluent is connected.

Sampling scenario

Because the effluent has a high value to the farmer who operates the adjacent cropland, samples are taken of both the effluent and the soil to make sure nutrient needs are matched. Effluent samples are taken at intervals during land application and shipped to a laboratory for testing within 24 hours. Soil samples are taken on a grid system guided by global positioning system (GPS). The fields are divided into approximately 40-acre units, and eight, sub-sample points are taken from within that section. A hydraulic probe samples at 12-, 24- and 36-in. depths.

Farm Works software is used to input manure and soil test results, as well as generate soil fertility maps to aid in planning future cropping practices. Soil sample results, crop yield goals and agronomic recommendations from the testing laboratory provide input for the soil fertility program and are kept as documentation of manure handling practices.

Technology tools

Some type of hi-tech tool is being used to monitor just about every activity at the Enterprise Nursery site, from pivot operation to fan speeds in individual rooms. A HughesNet satellite system and E-Frame Networking brought high-speed Internet to the nursery offices in 2007. Dicam controllers were also installed, allowing remote monitoring of ventilation, water and feed delivery systems.

GuardianACTION software provides real-time monitoring of each room's environment and provides alarm functions via e-mail, phone call or text messaging to make sure personnel are alerted to fix any problems.

“I can log in from anywhere I can get Internet access and see what's going on in the barns,” says NPP's Burroughs. “It helps me get a handle on what the problem is without having to drive to the site.”

Building relationships

The NPP team also invests in building relationships with the community. It sponsors an internship program, providing young people a chance to experience production agriculture first-hand. Enterprise Nursery also offers a scholarship program for high school students who work at the nursery as a way of encouraging their continuing education.

And there's also the continuing effort to make the land around the site attractive for both the public and the abundant wildlife that makes these Sand Hills home. Planting windbreaks and shelterbelts with both conifers and hardwoods, establishing grass to help hold sand in place against wind erosion and controlling weeds all help build the site's image.

“We see the entire NPP team taking on a sense of ownership and a pride in doing things right,” Burroughs says. “It's that kind of approach that helps build the image of our farms and the pork industry. Ultimately, it's the environment that wins.”