Chris Noble of NobleHurst Farms will tell you he’s done every job on his family’s operation in western New York.
But when it came time to expand the 1,800-head Holstein dairy and 2,800 crop operation in a state tight on land and resources, NobleHurst Farms choose to innovate.
“We don’t have a lot of land here versus Illinois and Iowa, where are there acres of land everywhere. We have people close by us. We have to be mindful of how we do things here,” says Chris, who farms in Pavilion, N.Y.
A goal to create more opportunities has always been a part of the farm. The Noble family first arrived in western New York in the 1800s, and now the family tree has branched out to the seventh-generation with Chris, his wife Jennifer and their little girls.
“The idea of milking more cows and spreading more manure on land didn’t excite me going forward. Side businesses and developing innovative ways to add to the core business was something I really was passionate about on the farm,” says Noble.
Planning for the future and trying new ideas has been a family tradition. “His parents were always so visionary," says Jennifer of her husband's parents. "That was their plan that they would have something their kids would have something to come home to here."
So that's the Nobles are doing: Combining opportunity with innovation.
“One thing we wanted to focus on is getting closer to the consumer,” says Noble. But he pursued that in an unexpected way: NobleHurst Farms built a $3.5 million digester, reducing methane emissions, odor and costs at the farm. It adds up to 450 kilowatts per hour, enough to power 350 homes. "We buy power at the farm, we buy power from the creamery and then we sell a little back to the grid certain times of the year,” says Noble.
But the digester doesn’t just function on manure alone. It also accepts food scraps that would normally go to a landfill. That’s what led Noble into forming a company called Natural Upcycling, which processes 10 tons to 15 tons of food scraps daily.
“It’s a huge opportunity for agricultural businesses, composters, and digesters to bring that into our nutrient stream and bring those back into the farm where they belong,” says Chris.
Natural Upcycling also recycles packaged products.“It could be produce, baked goods, anything really packed by hand or machine,” Chris says.
The farm is also reaching out the consumer in more conventional ways. NobleHurst's latest project is a creamery called Craig's Station, which is located on the dairy operation. It supplies milk not just from his dairy, but surrounding neighbors' dairies, which offers traceability back to the farm.
“Did I see this coming? Yeah, we always wanted to get closer to the consumer. We always wanted to bring in the next generation with their skills, connects, abilities, has certainly given us avenues into new markets,” says Sarah Noble-Moag, who is Chris's aunt.
The Noble family's good works go beyond their operation and industry. The farm also employs refugees as milkers through the New York Refugee Milker Training Program and hires disabled workers to help with the food recycling business.
"We need to support and build up and find opportunity for that whole community as well as the farm itself,” says Noble-Moag.
That emphasis on helping their community while growing their business, connecting with consumers, and caring for the environment is why Chris Noble was recently honored with the 2016 Tomorrow's Top Producer Horizon Award in Nashville.
“It’s a humbling honor," Chris says. It’s being able to tell a story about agriculture and the good things going on in this area. That’s always a privilege."
NobleHurst Farms Grows Operation While Investing in Their Community