• accountability
  • community
  • integrity
  • innovation
  • quality
  • passion

At DFA, every decision we make is guided by these six values. We call this living our values, and it is not only encouraged, but expected — from our members’ 8,500 family farms to our network of plants and offices throughout the country.

More Than a Century Of Growth

Third-generation farmer Gary Sutter and his son, Joel, have updated and expanded facilities to better suit modern agricultural practices and the care of their herd.

Fertile Ridge Dairy in Mount Horeb, Wis., has been in the family since 1903, and steady growth has always been a focus — whether it was expanding from 18 cows to 30, or replacing the freestall barn and milking parlor that now supports the 600-head operation.

In 2003, an expansion for the farm included updating facilities, parts of which were 100 years old, according to Sutter. The small and stuffy barn, with low ceilings, made for poor air quality. Sutter refers to the old barn as an unfriendly environment for the cows and people.

The new barn is more spacious and open, with improved air quality and more comfortable, larger stalls for the cows. As a result, Sutter says he has seen milk production increase. In the old facility, he says the cows were producing, at the most, an average of 50-60 pounds of milk per day. Now, they are producing roughly 90 pounds per day.

Sutter believes the increase in milk production can mainly be attributed to cow comfort.

"We try to give the cows the most comfortable environment they can have, and we want our employees to enjoy life and work," Sutter says. "We want that for ourselves too. And we feel that if we take care of the cows, the cows will take care of us."

Innovation Drives Success

The Fogler family, owners of Stonyvale Farm in Exeter, Maine, is focusing on growing their business through sustainable practices.

The use of a $5.2 million anaerobic digestion system uses manure and additional off-farm material to generate enough electricity to power up to 800 households and heat 300 New England homes. The digester is a first for Maine, according to operations manager Travis Fogler. The 1,000-cow dairy first converted raw manure and food waste into methane gas in December 2011.

Less than a year after installation, Stonyvale Farm had cut their bedding cost by half, to $40,000. Fertilizer costs have also decreased due to the use of the digester. The Foglers are able to spread fertilizer sooner than normal — without the odor that may prevent farmers from applying it.

"The digester eliminates the smells that you typically get," Fogler says.

The Foglers spent three years researching how to improve the farm’s nutrient management practices, and that focused research led to other projects. Commercial real estate developer and cousin of the Fogler family, Adam Wintle, helped the family with the original project’s financing, construction and engineering. Now, Wintle is the managing director of Biogas Energy Partners, a renewable energy development firm that opened in July 2011. Wintle helps other producers who are interested in building digestion systems on their operations.

The digester has not only provided cost benefits for the farm, but family benefits as well. By selling electricity produced to Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., it has allowed Wintle’s brother, John Wintle, to return to the farm to work as project facility manager for Exeter Agri-Energy, the farm’s subsidiary.

The family is also working on lobbying for new food waste management practices in Maine.

"Rght now, we’re just planting the seed with state legislators, but it’s our goal to help them see that this is a responsible way to farm," Adam Wintle says. The digester has shined a spotlight on the farm, but the family-run operation hasn’t significantly changed. Fogler says the family expects to grow their energy business and hopes to purchase additional land to expand their herd. "Looking ahead, nothing is set in concrete yet, but we will continue to look for new opportunities that might fit our system," Fogler says.

Providing Access To Emerging Technology

Through collaboration with other industry organizations, DFA is giving our members access to the latest technology designed to help them manage their resources efficiently and effectively.

In partnership with Dairy One, a farmer-owned cooperative providing farm management services, DFA is providing member farms the opportunity to participate in a pilot project utilizing the fertilizer efficiency tool Adapt-N. The project works to challenge the conventional models of nitrogen fertilizer application for corn production. Nitrogen is required by crops and critical to a successful harvest, but farmers sometimes struggle to manage the nutrient accurately and often risk over or under-application. The result of imperfect nitrogen application decisions can lead to environmental impairment and lost profits. Through the Adapt-N model, variability affecting a farm’s corn crop can be measured and help to predict the appropriate nitrogen application. The tool has recently been commercialized and is intended to improve growers’ financial and environmental performance through independent data science and cloud technology.

DFA also is an investor in Newtrient, a new entity formed in July 2015 by Dairy Management Inc., the National Milk Producers Federation and 12 cooperatives, representing nearly 50 percent of the U.S. milk supply, to drive the innovation of new technology and creative regulatory structures to enable dairy farmers to adopt sound sustainability practices. Newtrient’s efforts will help farmers throughout the industry by identifying nutrient management technologies to reduce dairy’s environmental footprint and create markets for nutrient byproducts. The new company will also provide education, counseling and consultation for farmers, and will explore innovative approaches to dairy’s ongoing sustainability work.

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