It was below freezing as an “AgDay” photographer and I toured Brubaker Farms in early December. But we quickly warmed to the Brubakers—patriarch Luke, sons Mike and Tony—this year’s Innovative Dairy Farmers of the Year (see “Power and Profit,” page 8).
Their humility and community-first mindset were apparent. Yet their application for the award shows aggressive innovation: a methane digester installed in 2007, before state and utility incentives; a partnership with a local college to use cafeteria waste for their digester; 10,000 sq. ft. of solar panels affixed atop a new heifer barn; and trading nutrient credits with a local waste treatment facility. But it wasn’t until we had spent the day with the Brubakers that we realized what true innovators they are.
Yes, the Brubakers have the advantage of farming in Pennsylvania. State regulations now require net metering, which allows them to push electricity onto the grid from the digester genset and solar panels. Another requirement mandates that utilities purchase at least 8% of their power from alternative sources. These regulations ensure the Brubakers a substantial and consistent revenue stream.
But they also have the disadvantage of farming in a quickly urbanizing area. Many of their fields abut new housing developments. Recent land sales exceed $15,000 per acre.
Yet, the Brubakers thrive. They use every last therm of waste heat from the digester to heat the milking center, run a waste milk pasteurizer, dry bedding solids and even help heat their milking towel clothes dryer. Their partnership with Elizabethtown College to utilize the school’s food wastes teaches students that dairy farms are good eco-citizens. Nutrient trading with the Mount Joy Borough Authority saves the town $80,000 per year on further nitrogen abatement from wastewater treatment.
The point is that the Brubakers have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them by favorable state energy regulations. And they’ve taken the challenges of where they farm and turned them into opportunities to bolster their standing in their local community.
It’s a lesson every dairy farm should heed.