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Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN Collaborates on Barn-to-Biogas Initiative

Barriers to methane digesters reduced for California dairy farmers.

“The best ideas come from our farmers,” says Tina May, senior director of Sustainability at Land O’Lakes.

First established as a dairy production and distribution organization, Land O’Lakes, the farmer-owned cooperative, stays true to its roots and puts the needs of member-farmers first.

In a new partnership with California Bioenergy, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, the company’s conservation solutions provider, is making methane digesters more cost-effective for farmers to implement on their dairy operations.

“We vetted partners very robustly and we ended up with a tremendous partner,” notes May. CalBio is based in Visalia, California, and is a design, build, engineer, and operate firm that specializes in making renewable, compressed natural gas out of manure.

The digesters will help support California’s new standards to reduce dairy and livestock manure-related methane emissions by 40%, by 2030. With 1.4 million dairy cows in California, dairy farm operations are the largest source of methane in the state.

Mission to Reduce Emissions

When Tina May and her team were investigating manure-related methane emissions questions on their California members’ dairy operations, they discovered the lack of digesters across the state and the need to provide an economically-sustainable solution to the farmer.

A digester breaks down organic material to create biogas, which primarily consists of methane. The methane is destroyed via combustion and can generate renewable electricity or renewable compressed natural gas, which can be used to power vehicles.

May says, “We realized we had a cluster of farms that were sitting almost on top of the natural gas pipeline that serves southern California. So the hypothesis was, could we help our producers meet or avoid the need for regulation, help them get grant money to put digesters on their farms, while also making sustainable vehicle fuel out of their manure.”

The dairy biogas can be cleaned and injected into the natural gas pipeline, providing renewable fuel and a new revenue stream for Land O’Lakes’ member-owners.

Of the solution-seeking member-farmers, May says, “Thinking this through from a circular economy approach, our farmers in California inherently understand risk and the need to mitigate for it. They’re also some of the best problem solvers I have been lucky to come across.

Farm-to-Fork Initiatives

In addition to the CalBio partnership, Land O’Lakes is working with Campbell’s Soup Company to ensure the wheat that goes into Goldfish Crackers and Milano Cookies is grown sustainably. Campbell’s is the parent company for Pepperidge Farm, which produces both snack foods. Farmers who grow the wheat utilize Land O’Lakes’ Truterra Insights Engine, an interactive, digital tool that measures conservation practices and financial ROI, to benchmark their stewardship across the acres of cropland. The engine tool creates custom insight reports and recommendations for the farmers to implement.

“We’re really excited about the application going forward this year for the Truterra tool as well and really using it to help more farmers optimize their business during this economic climate,” says May.

In all solutions, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN considers the on-farm economics to help farmers do more with less.

Another recent offering from Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is their Innovation Financing, in which member-farmers can apply to implement large-scale, conservation projects on-farm that demonstrate a measurable, positive air, soil, or water quality outcome. Farmers approached Land O’Lakes with a need to figure out a way to make their equity work for them. This new offering makes up to $3 million in equity-based financing available to eligible Land O’Lakes member-owners.

Outlook in 2019

According to May, moving forward in 2019, the end retailer is where it’s at. “Having the ag retailer be that nucleus of the balance of profitability and stewardship in rural America and in those communities is something we are so excited about building out.”

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