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Farm of the Future: Is Energy the New "Crop"?

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(Co-authored by Mark Inkrott, co-founder and partner of UpField Group.)

The dairy industry has adopted a series of environmental goals to hold itself accountable and work to become carbon neutral by 2050. In basic terms, those industry-wide goals focus on:

  • Feed production and practice changes
  • Cow care and efficiency
  • Manure handling and nutrient management
  • On-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy usage

In alignment with those goals and as an example of our expertise as long-term partners with our dairy farm customers, EnTech Solutions has created a “Farm of the Future” in Middleton, Wisconsin. Here, animal waste is turned into renewable natural gas (RNG) using an anaerobic digester system powered by an onsite solar microgrid. Producing renewable natural gas with renewable energy increases the value of the gas.

Modern farmers focused on longevity and legacy are pursuing pieces of this farm-of-the-future concept to create their own personalized solutions to address the goals above. The outcome is farms with diversified income streams – milk, crops and energy – using strategies that align with their existing value systems and reducing the risk of loss for any one product. Future farms will go beyond just providing food for society but will also be their own source of energy.

Options for Achieving Net Zero

Farmers have historically served as guardians of our planet’s resources, always looking to find new ways to replenish and nurture the land, air, water and animals that help us all survive and thrive. As developing technology enables us to measure our environmental impact, we continue to learn, adjust and improve at managing and caring for those resources.

EnTech Solutions offers a variety of technologies that help dairy farms improve their environmental stewardship in the pursuit of carbon neutrality (net zero), including:

  • Energy modeling tools that can examine the return on investment for multiple scenarios and project options.
  • Anaerobic digester development in which methane from organic waste is captured to prevent release into the atmosphere, and using that methane to produce renewable natural gas (RNG), as well as high-quality fertilizer and animal bedding.
  • Water treatment facilities on the anaerobic digester sites can create clean water safe for runoff, irrigation or farm maintenance.
  • Microgrids that use distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar, wind or hydro to locally power farm operations.
  • Software to monitor and control microgrid performance.

The technology continues to evolve, making farm-of-the-future business strategies easier and more economical for dairy farms of all sizes. Partnering with EnTech Solutions offers options that can eliminate barriers while providing innovative, yet simple, solutions.

Benefits of Farm-of-the-Future Strategies

While the benefits to the environment may be obvious, there are also significant benefits to individual farmers who adopt this future approach.

  • Reduce risk by ensuring some guaranteed income through product diversification; for example, using some of your acreage for a solar array. The opportunity to produce energy as a crop is even more compelling when you take advantage of current energy credits.
  • Solve some of the biggest issues with both consumption and production of energy, as well as manure management. Particularly for farms with fast-growing herds, it can be difficult to avoid Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) runoff issues. An anaerobic digester provides both a solution and a potential new income stream by producing RNG as well as the potential to sell electricity back to the utility.
  • Improve the perception of the farming industry caused by methane byproduct from dairy cows being a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. Farm-of-the-future strategies enable proactive farmers to be seen as solving the planet’s problems, not creating them.
  • Create a long-lasting legacy by diversifying your income portfolio. Producing solar energy and renewable natural gas adds security and longevity to your dairy farm’s future, allowing you to pass the family farm to the next generation with confidence.

This approach to dairy farming aligns perfectly with the values and principles that farmers have modeled throughout history, propelled with new advancements in technology and sustainability efforts.

Be Prepared and Proactive with Renewable Energy

The agricultural industry has already acknowledged a need to create better systems and work together to build off each other’s momentum, requiring collaboration and cooperation.

While many vendors can build a digester, EnTech Solutions has a standardized design process based on modular construction, allowing each project to be scalable, cost effective and quick to market. We offer end-to-end capabilities including engineering, procurement and construction and work with you from start to finish to maximize the total value of the project. Additionally, we can help you achieve your operational and environmental goals using unique modeling software, renewable energy microgrids and technology for monitoring and controlling your systems.

Ensure your ability to fuel our nation with healthy products, including milk, dairy products, row crops — and renewable energy.

To learn more about upgrading your dairy farm with Farm of the Future technologies, contact EnTech Solutions or email [email protected].