At first glance, it might seem there is little connection between overseeing a golf course maintenance operation and running a cattle ranch. However, Dan Tolson, Golf Course Superintendent at The Club at 3 Creek in Jackson, Wyo., has undertaken a maintenance process that not only provides pesticide-free feed for livestock, it turns a common golf course waste product—grass clippings—into livestock silage and creates a new revenue stream for his club. With the aid of a BioPac’r, a self-contained machine, The Club at 3 Creek sells the silage to the Crowfoot J Ranch in Victor, Idaho.
The BioPac’r was invented by Todd Grauss of Yellowstone Compact and Commodities Corp. in Jackson, after he was spending large sums of money to haul grass clippings for disposal to the dump. Disposal fees were a costly expense for The Club at 3 Creek as well, so Tolson was an enthusiastic BioPac’r customer from the beginning.
The Club at 3 Creek bought a BioPac’r in 2015, and the property originally gave away the converted clippings to another rancher. Last year, however, the club signed a contract to sell its silage to Crowfoot J, located about 30 miles away. “It’s a viable food supply for livestock,” says Tolson. “Ranchers struggle to grow hay for [their animals].”
The BioPac’r (see photo, opposite pae) slides into the back of a pickup truck or can be mounted on a trailer, and compresses material into one-ton cubes that measure 4 feet by 5 feet.
Encased in special airtight plastic bags, the biomass undergoes a fermentation process that kills pesticides and turns the clippings into a silage product in 30 days. Fertilizers and pesticides in the grass are broken down and degraded in the first eight hours that the clippings are sealed, and the product has a shelf life of at least eight years.
The collection process does not interfere with regular maintenance inputs at The Club at 3 Creek, Tolson says, because grounds crew members simply gather clippings from the greens, tees, and approaches—the areas that they walk-mow.
“Every morning the guys go out to mow, and instead of dumping them in the rough area, they dump the clippings in the back of their carts and then shovel them into the BioPac’r,” says Tolson. “It really doesn’t add anything to our labor requirements.”
The hopper holds about a ton of clippings, and the Club at 3 Creek staff collects about a bag of clippings a week.
The Club at 3 Creek staff has also found that other materials besides grass clippings, including some of the stems, organic matter, and brown material churned up through vertical mowing, can be turned into nutritious feed.
Last year The Club at 3 Creek exported 15 tons of the silage, and Tolson hopes to sell 25 tons, at $70 per ton, this year. The Club at 3 Creek was spending $10,000 a year, or more than double the amount of $70 per ton, to haul off the grass clippings, so Tolson has seen a substantial swing in his budget. “The BioPac’r paid for itself in less than three years,” he says.
He plans to increase production by starting the process earlier and continuing it later in the season. In addition, the grounds crew will knock off sand from more fairway clippings during aerification in the fall, so those clippings can be put into the BioPac’r.
The property composts clippings that cannot be converted into silage because they contain too much sand. Composted clippings can be sold back to the community as mulch.
“There’s no downside I have seen in five years of doing this,” says Tolson. “This is one way a golf course can do more with less and make a little extra money on the side, by converting a waste product to a commodity and helping the environment.”
The Goal: Create a sustainable program at The Club at 3 Creek that reduces the property’s waste, carbon footprint, and labor costs, while also eliminating disposal fees for grass clippings.
The Plan: The property purchased a BioPac’r machine that converts grass clippings to silage for livestock. Grounds crew members collect grass clippings when they walk-mow their greens, tees, and approaches. The grass clippings are then put in plastic bags, where they are kept for a month during the fermentation process, before being sold to an Idaho rancher to feed his cattle.
The Payoff: The Club at 3 Creek has saved costs by eliminating disposal fees of its grass clippings, created a new revenue stream, and had a positive effect on the environment.