Auburn’s Biosolids Benefit Agricultural Community Across State

Dan Rabe started as an operator at Auburn’s Water Pollution Control (WPC) department after a stint in the air force. That was 28 years ago. Today, he is the face—and arms and legs and one-man operation—of the WPC’s Biosolids Program. In fact, he helped launch it in 1998 and has run the regional program ever since.

While the program is not well known by citizens, it is considered a regional stronghold in the agricultural community. Under Rabe’s guidance, Auburn now sells Class A EQ (Exceptional Quality) biosolids to the surrounding area, including as far away as Roann, Indiana.

The Auburn facility treats and processes raw municipal biosolids and septage to become marketable biosolids. Farmers then use the biosolids as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth. In the last decade and a half, the amount of septage processed and sold has more than tripled. In 2001, the facility processed 38,000 gallons of septage. Last year, that number topped 1.3 million gallons as well as another 1.3 million gallons of raw municipal biosolids. All that resulted in approximately $218,000 in revenue for WPC in 2017.

Rabe has been able to keep costs to $176 per dry ton. Some facilities in the U.S. have operational costs of $500+ per dry ton. “I don’t know of a more successful facility,” he shares proudly.

Rabe’s Farming Background Provides Credibility

Rabe is able to connect with farmers thanks, in large part, to his upbringing. He grew up on a farm in Pinconning, Michigan. Ironically, when he graduated from high school, he didn’t want anything to do with farming.

“I lived on a small farm,” he says. “I worked in the fields weeding beans—it was hard work.”

But that understanding has given him credibility with his customers.

“My background has helped me market to farmers, but what I really try to do is let the science sell the product,” he explains.

With the program in existence for nearly 20 years, it appears that approach is working well.

(Photo credit: Haylee Harvey)