Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a national farmer-owned dairy cooperative, and Vanguard Renewables, a Massachusetts-based renewable energy developer, announced April 13 a strategic partnership to help bring anaerobic digestion technology to more farms across the country.
While waste management and environmental sustainability are top priorities for dairy farmers today, DFA and Vanguard said renewable energy methods, like anaerobic digesters that convert manure to energy, are not broadly used on American dairy farms. These systems often require a major capital expense to implement and significant expertise and time commitment to manage. For these reasons, among others, they said farmers have been reluctant to invest in the technology, despite the benefits.
“Dairy farmers have always been great stewards of the land, but, like any business, farmers must continue to innovate and evolve,” said David Darr, president of farm services at DFA. “With this partnership, we hope to make anaerobic digestion more available to more farmers, which is not only good for the environment but will also help our farmer families run their businesses more efficiently, and that’s a win-win.”
With the alliance, DFA and Vanguard Renewables will collaborate to develop resilient business models using anaerobic digestion systems. Working with farmers, government agencies, dairy processors and retailer customers, the partners will build business cases for innovative systems. For those business models that meet financial thresholds, Vanguard will provide capital investment for anaerobic digestion systems on DFA member farms. Vanguard also will help oversee and monitor the on-site operation of the digester on DFA member farms. This valuable expertise will allow farmers to remain focused on the core operational aspects of running their farms without getting distracted by the digester while gaining added income from dairy operations, the announcement explained.
John Hanselman, executive chairman at Vanguard Renewables, pointed out that "anaerobic digesters are extremely complex systems and could easily become a full-time job for a farmer to manage. We want to help farms by streamlining the development process and by providing professional operation. DFA is the perfect partner to make anaerobic digestion accessible as a mainstream technology on dairy farms across the country, addressing DFA member needs in a sustainable economy.”
Vanguard Farm Powered anaerobic digestion systems are currently operating on two DFA member farms, and the goal is to add more soon with the new DFA/Vanguard alliance.
Since 2011, DFA members Randy and Brian Jordan, brothers who run Jordan Dairy Farm, have been operating an anaerobic digester that combines manure and organic food waste and then puts electricity back into the utility grid.
“We are absolutely seeing the benefit of having an anaerobic digester from Vanguard Renewables on our farm,” Randy Jordan said. “Before the partnership, our monthly electric costs were more than $2,400. Now, we’re receiving low-cost energy, hot water and heat, replacing oil and propane and natural fertilizer, which increases our hay yields. This is absolutely a partnership that will help sustain our farm for future generations.”