[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: When we think about climate change mitigation-- that is, the ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint-- we might consider turning off the lights when we leave the house, riding our bike to work, or driving a fuel efficient car. But most of us don't think about the food we eat. Unfortunately, when it comes to agriculture, there's a misconception that reducing emissions means sacrificing a farm's economic viability, but this needn't be the case. When it comes to climate change mitigation agriculture provides many opportunities for us to both reduce our emissions, while also enhancing the profitability and long term sustainability of our farms.
One of the best examples of this is an investment in generating on farm renewable energy. To be clear, we are not talking about growing biofuels for ethanol, but rather direct on farm energy production through the use of manure solar and wind. These technologies can help farmers become net zero, which means that the greenhouse gas emissions produced on the farm are balanced by the farm's efforts to offset or sequester an equivalent amount of carbon.
Meet Don Jensen, Lawnhurst Farms, and Chip Bailey, KC Orchards. John is a dairy farmer, and Chip an apple grower. They both have different concerns and feelings about climate change, but they share a commitment to farming for renewable energy.
For thousands of years, farmers like Don and Chip have looked for ways to maximize their resources and improve the efficiency of their farms. In continuing this tradition, both have been able to take advantage of their existing on farm resources to produce energy and promote the long term economic viability of their operations. For Don, this has meant building an anaerobic digester.
DON JENSEN: We have, currently, about 1,500 milk cows and 1,200 supporting livestock. We farm about 2,000 acres in Stanley, New York. We produce in the neighborhood of 40 million pounds of milk a year, which is marketed locally through the Upstate Milk Co-operative.
This is a farm that now has four generations. I'm the third. My daughter and my son will be taking the business over as time moves on.
Three or four years ago we were investigating building an anaerobic digester.
JENNIFER PRONTO: So basically, an anaerobic digester is a containment vessel where the input's usually manure and sometimes an additional feedstock, like food waste or any other organic material. It's basically aggregated, and it undergoes a decomposition process. It normally stays in there for on average 20 to 25 days.
Microbes are constantly breaking it down. And through that process, a material called biogas is created, 60% methane. So therefore, we can use that as an input to an electricity generation unit, and generate electricity sort of like they would with natural gas. A farm is really usually able, for a lot of the year, to offset their purchase power costs from using their own biogas based electricity on farm.
DON JENSEN: The initial reason we wanted to build a digester was to create an ample supply of bedding. That was the original reason. We just didn't have enough bedding of the solids to bed the cows, and we wanted a pathogen free bedding, the reduction in the odor. We're in an area where there's a fair amount of housing, there's a fair amount of small little hamlets, so you know, when we're out there spreading millions of gallons of manure annually, we're very sensitive to how the neighbors feel about it.
Running this through an anaerobic digester doesn't eliminate totally, but it certainly makes it more palatable within the neighborhood. The ability to go out and put manure on the fields without a lot of complaints and a lot of negative feedback from the community. So being community friendly is very important to this farming operation.
JENNIFER PRONTO: There's definitely societal benefits, as well, when you get into talking about climate change reduced methane emissions from livestock. I'd say the most important role that digesters play in climate change mitigation is you're intentionally capturing that methane that's produced from the livestock manure, and putting that towards a beneficial use. So instead of that methane-- which is a very potent greenhouse gas-- being released to the atmosphere, you're capturing that. And then, once you use that in an engine generator set to produce electricity, you can reduce purchased fossil fuel based power from the grid. So that's sort of a win-win situation.
NATHAN RUDGERS: So not only has Don positioned Lawnhurst to now and in the future to take advantage of generating a renewable electricity resource, but also to the extent that there are revenue opportunities presented because of the ecosystem benefits. So if in the future there's a substantial revenue opportunity from demonstrating carbon sequestration and carbon management, that's extremely valuable, certainly from a sustainability perspective going forward. And the most important sustainability issue is financial sustainability.
JENNIFER PRONTO: Anaerobic digestion technology works. It's definitely been proven. It's not a new technology.
What really is lacking is an economically favorable environment for these things to really take off. In some of the feasibility studies that we've done we've come up with sort of tail end marketing ideas, like a green milk, different farms with digesters or, you know, climate mitigation strategies could put their milk together and claim that it was carbon neutral or green. That's definitely a marketing strategy, and I think people would pay more, just like they pay more for organic.
DON JENSEN: Most areas our size, and frankly probably a little larger, over the next 10 years, have got to adopt some sort of technology. We've got a resource within the waste stream in itself. You know, we got carbon that can be reduced, the carbon footprint. What is somewhat of a nuisance is now a resource, if you have a digester. And frankly, we've found that the amount of time needed to operate this digester isn't a whole lot more maybe another half hour a day more than what we already had invested in handling our manure waste anyways.
This originally was budgeted to cash flow, and now it's, looking at one year of operation, it appears that it's exceeded our expectations. And the digester is one of the technologies that can make us neighbor friendly, community friendly, and environment friendly.
SPEAKER 1: By proactively managing his farms waste stream through the use of a digester, Don is lowering his farm's methane emissions, while farming for energy. Digesters are well-suited for dairy farms, but they are not the only technology available to farmers. For farms without manure, solar and wind production can play a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions. 35 miles north of Stanley, New York, near the shores of Lake Ontario, Chip Bailey too is farming for energy.
CHIP BAILEY: This is my 30th year farming, since graduating from Cornell in 1984. And we have, currently, about 160 acres in Apple production. We grow about 24 different apple varieties, and we pick, on average, about 165,000 bushels on 160 acres.
On top of that, we're net zero as far as our energy use. The renewable change, my wife Carla and I both decided on together, and my wife is a big part of our business. And meeting our net zero energy goals is something that we decided together, and we're both committed to.
I first began looking into renewable energy in the fall of 2001. Long and short of it, from 2001, it took me until 2009 to get that windmill up. A month after I put up the windmill, we installed our first solar system. We could kind of add onto that as we needed more power.
So all our cold storages, shop, labor camp facilities here on the farm, including my house, is powered with renewable energy, and that reduces our carbon footprint. On an annual basis, we produce about 180,000 kilowatt hours of power. So that would be enough, roughly, to power 18 homes on an annual basis.
You look worldwide, there's not enough water and energy. And food is right up there. We live in a plentiful land here, but you look worldwide, there's definite shortages. So those three things, I think there's always going to be a demand for, and because we're a growing business, we've created our own demand. So why not produce it and utilize it.
I mean, really, when you look at what we're doing growing apples, we're taking the energy from the sun and producing a crop of apples. So really, what we're doing is the same thing with the solar panels. We're harvesting the sunshine with apples or renewable energy.
Anything in life is a gamble, and anything new you're going to take some lumps over, you know? And that's why, you know, I ended up calling it the bleeding edge, instead of the leading edge, because you're going to get some cuts and scrapes and bruises when you're trying out these new things.
But is there an economic benefit to going net zero? I would say yes. It's just you've got to manage your own timeline as far as the repayment, but it is a cost that you are going to pay to the power company every month for the rest of your life. You don't want it to be a burden to your business, but I think that there is a way and we've proven that here, that you can't have it both ways. And I think we have an obligation as farmers and first stewards of the land to provide for the next generation, not just the next generation of farmers, but the next generation.
SPEAKER 1: Through long term planning and careful management, Chip and his wife's orchard has become a local model for renewable energy production. So much so that the community of Williamson, New York, where the orchard is located, has embraced alternative energy at the municipal level, and committed itself to going net zero. It may not always be easy, but farmers like Chip and Don have found ways to re-imagine the traditional values of farming, by incorporating new technologies that promote their businesses, benefit their communities, and address climate change.
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This video, produced by Conservation Bridge, highlights the importance and benefits of on-farm renewable energy production. Featuring: Don Jensen of Lawnhurst Farms and Chip Bailey of K.C. Orchards.