MIDDLEBURY — Culver Duck is a fifth-generation family business that serves the niche poultry market and also serves as the second-largest duck operation in North America.
Running heating lamps in the hatchery and freezers for the meat, plus adding equipment to manually aid in processing, they became one of the biggest users of electricity in the county.
Over the last five months, they’ve also become one of the biggest suppliers of electricity in the county, according to NIPSCO officials who toured Culver’s new power plant a few weeks ago.
FOUNDED/WHY THEY’RE HERE
The company has a long history, dating back five generations to Long Island in New York, but most recently the Culver family decided to put the waste of their successful duck operation to work for them. They’re going from one of the largest electric customers in Elkhart County to one of the largest electric producers in the county, producing more power than they use.
WHAT THEY DO
They use the leftovers from duck slaughter — blood, heads and feet — and add it with agricultural plant waste to break down. As that process happens, the plant and animal remains give off methane, which they use to power generators. The generators turn the methane into electricity, which Culver sells to NIPSCO at a premium price because it’s renewable fuel.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW
If you’re a NIPSCO electric customer, some of your power may come from Culver. They sell all their power to NIPSCO, then buy power off the grid, actually at a rate lower than NIPSCO pays them.
WHERE THEY REACH
While their duck meat is sold across the country and even internationally, their electricity enters the NIPSCO electrical grid.
In the realm of duck meat, the largest competitor in North America is one county over, Maple Leaf Farms in Kosciusko County. In terms of power, there are a couple of dairy operators producing power on NIPSCO’s grid.
When everything is running at full capacity, Culver can produce 1.2 megawatts of power, enough to power their needs and dozens of homes.
With two generators running this week, they were producing just more than 800 kilowatts of power, more than enough to break even. They’re five months into the process and increasing capacity as they go along, said Don Young, the company’s renewable energy manager.
The extensive costs of the project should be paid off between four and six years from now, Young said.
In addition to the offal from tens of thousands of ducks every week, or 5 million birds a year, the digester uses waste from seed corn, vegetable waste from Meijer and leftover corn waste from Monogram corn dog production in Bristol.
About 20,000 gallons of waste are added to the digester each day.
The equivalent amount of mostly dry material is taken out each day. That material is composted and used as a soil additive for crop production around Culver’s facility north of Middlebury, and they hope to offer it for sale in the future.
Did you know one local, family-owned company is helping the East Coast prepare for the worst in the wake of last year’s devastation from Hurricane Sandy? We’ll introduce you to the folks who help keep the lights on in an emergency.
Do you know of an Elkhart County business that would surprise most people? Let us know about your “hidden gem” by sending an email to Justin Leighty at firstname.lastname@example.org