Business

Knee Deep Solutions builds thriving business around pigs

More large pork producers drive need for manure management plans

Rachel Rinner, owner, answers a question at Knee Deep Solutions in Washington on Thursday, Apr. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Rachel Rinner, owner, answers a question at Knee Deep Solutions in Washington on Thursday, Apr. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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WASHINGTON, Iowa — Rachel Rinner’s storefront just off the square in Washington is a symbol of what concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, can mean for a community.

Within the chic space with exposed brick walls, white sliding “barn” doors and pink swivel chairs, Rinner has expanded her business writing and maintaining manure management plans for Iowa pork producers.

She has two full-time employees with a third joining next week. All are women.

“Washington County is one of the only small counties that is growing and that’s because of agricultural growth,” said Rinner, 36.

Washington County has 205 active animal feeding operations that require manure management plans, making it eighth highest in CAFO concentration among Iowa’s 99 counties. The county also has a growing population, lower unemployment than many counties, and the city of Washington has a higher median income than the state overall.

Rinner, who has a degree in agricultural studies from Iowa State University, started Knee Deep Solutions — the name a playful nod to pig poop — 12 years ago at her kitchen table. Her husband, Troy, was planning to build a 2,400-head hog confinement facility that required a state plan for how they would deal with the manure.

“The DNR had gone to something more complicated that farmers couldn’t do themselves,” she said.

Rinner learned the system and started doing manure management plans for a growing number of farmers, streamlining and improving her process through repetition.

“Rachel does this every day — just like I take care of pigs every day,” said Dan Berdo, a Washington County farmer and pork producer who hired Rinner last month to do a plan for a new 1,200-head expansion. “She knows all the right questions to ask and makes sure the paperwork is done right.”

Rinner uses Google Earth to find the land where Berdo wants to expand operations as well as identify any nearby water sources, houses, roads, geographical features or landmarks that could affect siting. Few of these features can make a hog confinement off limits, but they may add restrictions.

Rinner maps the land where Berdo proposes spreading manure from the new confinement, but soil samples are needed to document the land can accept the nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure. She’ll also need to verify Berdo’s tilling techniques and crop rotation.

A site visit later will help make sure she’s not missing things she can’t see from the satellite images.

Washington County also has been a leader in agricultural conservation strategies, receiving the largest share of state cost-share funding for cover crops in 2017.

Other companies have opened in Washington County to fill pork producers’ needs, such as insurance, sheet metal for confinements and concrete slats for the floor of hog barns.

Those businesses have continued to fuel Washington County’s strong economy, said Ed Raber, who led Washington economic development efforts for 20 years before a recent move to Dubuque.

“It permeates everything,” Raber said.

And he’s not talking about the smell of manure.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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