Dairy Farms Doing it Right

2013SustainabilityAwardWinnersMilkMustacheAdThe Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is announcing the winners of the second annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards on April 23 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The program recognizes dairy farms and businesses of all sizes for practices that advance the industry’s commitment to healthy products, healthy communities and a healthy planet.

“The strength of the award winners’ stories illustrates why consumers can be confident about choosing their favorite dairy foods and beverages,” says Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which was founded by dairy producers. “These and thousands of other actions being taken every day — both large and small — contribute to the industry’s overall commitment to a healthy future for the next generation.”

The winners were selected based on results that delivered triple-bottom-line results to advance economic, environmental and social sustainability. An independent panel of judges — which included experts from academic institutions, government, dairy science organizations, nongovernmental organizations and media as well as environmental and dairy industry leaders — also assessed the potential for adoption by others as well as demonstrated learning, innovation and improvement.

The 2013 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards Winners include:

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability

Petersen Dairy Farm, Appleton, Wis.: When the city of Appleton, Wis., built a high school less than half of a mile from Petersen Dairy Farm, the Petersen family began composting as a way to manage the dairy’s manure and associated odors. Now compost is sold at the dairy by the 5-gallon pail or truckload, primarily to home gardeners. Visitors witness firsthand how their old newspapers are recycled as bedding for the cows, or mixed with manure, composted and ultimately returned to their gardens for use as mulch and to their yards for plant food.

Prairieland Dairy, Firth, Neb.: A creative partnership among four families put this dairy on the path to long-term prosperity and allows employees at Prairieland Dairy to focus on their specific talents. Sustainable design is reflected in every aspect of the facilities, which were built to be efficient and low-impact while maximizing cow comfort. Automatic cooling, waste management and pest control systems are just part of the solution. Prairieland Dairy also taps into the natural power of wind, gravity and the geothermal properties of well water to reduce the use of energy, water and equipment, for savings estimated at more than $200,000.

Skyridge Farms, Sunnyside, Wash.: Dan DeGroot, owner of Skyridge Farms, cultivated an organization that optimizes performance and preserves the environment. Since 2003, DeGroot has improved lighting, added occupancy sensors and installed a programmable logic control system. The management team can automatically control lighting, fans and soaker and flush systems. By doing so, they maintain optimum performance, reduce costs and keep the herd comfortable. This upgrade alone yields a 20% energy savings annually across the five freestall barns.

Honorable mention  McCarty Family Farms, Rexford, Kan.: The McCarty Family, owners of McCarty Family Farms, have revitalized their rural northwestern Kansas community by providing more than 100 direct jobs, creating a need for additional housing and in turn increasing school enrollment. McCarty Family Farms’ unique “cow to cup” partnership with Dannon and the addition of an on-site processing plant has improved economic stability while aggressively reducing their environmental impact. The plant has yielded significant progress toward the dairy’s water reduction goal. Approximately 59,400 gallons of raw milk from the three dairies is processed through an evaporator every day to remove excess water before being separated into cream and skim milk. Every drop of the water removed during the evaporation process — 39,000 gallons per day — is reused throughout the dairies.

Outstanding Dairy Processing & Manufacturing Sustainability

Unilever, Henderson, Nev., plant: Since 2010, Unilever plants worldwide have been implementing the company’s Sustainable Living Plan — an initiative that is working to improve consumer health and well-being, to reduce environmental impact and to enhance livelihoods. Employees at the ice cream plant worked side by side with environmental experts to analyze energy efficiency and water usage. The team identified an opportunity to reconfigure, automate and optimize systems to reduce electricity use by 13%, natural gas use by 16% and water consumption by more than 1.1 million gallons per year.

Outstanding Achievement in Energy Efficiency

Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese, Gooding, Idaho: The Ballards see energy efficiency as a way to reduce their overhead costs and eliminate propane use. An energy audit and a team of energy management experts helped identify four primary areas of savings, which included using solar thermal power for the hot water system, installing LED lighting, replacing vacuum pumps and adjusting the milk cooling process. The Ballards achieved their goals, saving $23,000 annually and reducing the dairy’s carbon footprint by 121,500 pounds per year, while decreasing its water footprint by 365,000 gallons annually.

Outstanding Achievement in Renewable Energy

Green Valley Dairy, Krakow, Wis.: The management team’s “waste not” philosophy has them constantly evaluating opportunities to reclaim energy, recycle water and repurpose manure nutrients. In 2005, the management team determined that anaerobic digesters would help manage manure nutrients and reduce odors while decreasing the dairy’s carbon footprint. Although it was one of the first digesters in Wisconsin, the benefits of this plan quickly gained public support. Today, three anaerobic digesters have the capacity to produce 1,200 kWh of “green” electricity — most of which is used on the dairy or sold to the local utility.

Honorable mention Fulper Family Farmstead, Lambertville, N.J.: Fulper Family Farmstead has focused on environmentally friendly activities, including soil conservation, crop rotation and farmland preservation, since the dairy’s origin in 1909. As operating costs continue to rise, the Fulpers found that a solar energy system would increase energy efficiency, sustainability and revenue, while decreasing the farm’s carbon footprint and utility costs. Installed in 2011, the free-standing, ground-mounted system creates 500 kWh daily — enough to cover all of the operation’s electricity needs and power approximately 100 homes. Today, the farmstead sells $30,000 in renewable energy credits annually.

“This year’s winners include dairy farms and businesses from across the country who took steps to reduce their environmental impact, improve their profitability and increase their contribution to a sustainable 21st century food system,” said Molly Jahn, professor of genetics and agronomy at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the awards’ judges panel.

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