Dairy Innovation Honorees Reflect Industry Drive toward Clean Energy, Efficiency

The dairy industry this week recognized a number of its members for their commitment to stewardship and sustainability. It’s a show of appreciation that the 25x’25 Alliance would like to extend to the entire industry for its efforts to reduce energy use, produce clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is a collaborative effort within the industry to work together pre-competitively to address barriers and opportunities to foster innovation and increase sales. A key area of focus of the Center is development of anaerobic digesters that can both produce clean electricity and destroy methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The Innovation Center’s goal is to have 1,300 digesters operating in the U.S. dairy industry by 2020.

Yesterday, the Innovation Center presented its third annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, which recognize dairy farms, businesses and collaborative partnerships that are committed to delivering exceptional results that are good for business, good for the environment and good for the community.

Innovation Center leaders say the award winners embody the industry’s pledge to provide a healthy future for the next generation – a pledge underscored last month by the White House’s acknowledgment of voluntary industry actions and continuous improvements of dairy farms and companies. This June, in partnership with the dairy industry, the USDA, EPA and DOE will jointly release a “Biogas Roadmap” outlining strategies and technologies to reduce U.S. dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Cited in particular by the White House is an ongoing agreement between USDA and the Innovation Center that is encouraging the research and development of new technologies to help dairies reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A principal aim of the agreement first signed in 2009 is to increase the number of anaerobic digesters located on dairy operations. It’s a technology that converts waste products such as manure into methane, which, in turn, is used to fuel generators that can supply electricity to power the operation and, in many cases, direct excess electricity back to the grid.

Under the agreement, USDA farm energy programs like the Renewable Energy America Program (REAP) and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) better target available funding and improve cost-sharing for methane digestion projects.

Among the dairy operations recognized this week by the Innovation Center is the Sensenig Dairy, located in Kirkwood, PA. In order to ensure their farm would be viable for the next generation, Cliff and Andrea Sensenig integrated a methane digester into their operation. Three years of planning and collaboration with consultants and neighbors led to a digester that now processes manure from 200 dairy animals, 2,000 hogs and 30,000 chickens from neighboring farms, along with local food waste. Each year the digester reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to removing more than 200 cars from the road, while delivering environmental and financial benefits for the dairy.

For its work in promoting renewable energy, the Vander Haak Dairy, in Lynden, WA, was recognized for its unprecedented collaboration with Washington State University and Andgar Corporation in building Washington state’s first dairy digester as a test bed for technology development and monitoring. Vander Haak explored the potential of adding food waste to the digester. Now, in addition to creating renewable energy and additional revenue streams for his farm, Vander Haak is helping food processors repurpose their waste to help grow more food.

Recognized for its achievements in energy efficiency, the Marshik Dairy, in Pierz, MN ‑ a fifth-generation 155-cow family farm ‑implemented in 2010 a new, technologically advanced and energy efficient barn that included robotic milking facilities, energy efficient lighting and ventilation, and renewable wind and solar power. Robotics automation increased cow comfort, and improved their lifestyle and that of future generations on the farm. Innovation Center officials say the success of the Marshik operations proves that the technologies can be implemented on any size dairy.

Those honored by the Innovation Center this week were selected based on a criteria that echoes the aims of 25x’25; they generate positive economic, environmental and community impacts ‑ a triple-bottom-line success. The honorees were also picked because their practices and technologies offer great potential for adoption by others, demonstrating learning, innovation, improvement and scalability.

25x’25 commends the Innovation Center, this week’s honorees and all farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility to their communities by promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and overall sustainability, and as a result, enhance their ability pass along a strong business to the next generation.

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