Few farms in North America are as recognized as Prairie’s Edge Dairy Farm LLC, Fair Oaks, Ind. Located just off the interstate south of Chicago, sits on over 15,000 acres and shepherds over 18,000 cows, enough cows to produce a glass of milk every day for everyone in Chicago. The farm is also host to The Dairy Adventure, one of the largest agricultural theme parks in America, where the doors of its operations are opened to the scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of visitors both fans and critics. It is a real glimpse into the modern dairy farm of the future.
Sustainability in the Spotlight
Such up-close public attention has reinforced the dairy’s management team to pay close heed to the big picture issues that can affect the farm, including what being truly sustainable entails.
“We work hard developing our operations with a mind to what will affect us not just today, but in three, five, and 10 years,” says Dr. Michael McCloskey, DVM, CEO and co-founder of Prairie’s Edge. “It’s a strategy that has helped us understand and calculate the importance of farming sustainably. Our goal is for Prairie’s Edge to reach a zero-carbon footprint.”
And, he believes they can get there.
Dairy farms continue to spend a lot of effort and resources on their milk production, making sure it is safe and a high quality. But the side of the dairy farm that is getting a lot attention these days is manure.
“We’re now implementing technologies enabling us to turn farm manure waste from a potential liability into an asset,” he says.
Over the past decade, Prairie’s Edge installed bio-digesters that produce 2,000,000 feet3 of bio-gas annually from its cow manure. That’s enough gas to fuel its more than 40 tractor-trailers and electrically power its milk production operations and the Visitor’s Center of the Fair Oaks Theme Park and still sell excess electricity back to the county power utility.
As successful as its energy-producing technologies have been, they haven’t made the manure disappear, which requires additional technology. For Prairie’s Edge the next big step was nutrient recovery.
Nutrient recovery captures manure’s nutrient components—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—and converts manure into by-products that are safer for the environment, easier for the farm to manage, and creates additional values and revenues.
It is a relatively new process and careful planning was needed to find the right technology to align with Prairie’s Edges’ existing operational processes.
Carl Ramsey, environmental manager for Prairie’s Edge, was tasked with finding and implementing the nutrient recovery technology. “There were several systems that showed promise, but with so many variables that differ from farm to farm and region to region, evaluating solutions can be complicated.
“Initially, nutrient recovery technology seemed expensive,” continues Ramsey, “but once we analyzed all the manure-related costs that nutrient recovery could effectively reduce or eliminate, we realized the return on investment would come pretty quickly.
“Farmers need to recognize the future of manure is going to include tougher regulation, and they need to get a handle on the costs those regulations will impose,” Ramsey continues. “Once they do, they’ll be able to figure out how to make nutrient recovery work for them. For smaller farms that might mean cooperating to centralize one nutrient recovery system amongst themselves.”
Prairie’s Edge chose a technology from Trident Processes, LLC, the U.S. subsidiary of KPD Consulting Ltd. of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, one among only a handful of companies developing nutrient recovery technologies specifically for the Ag sector.