Story Bank: A Tale of Properly Managed Resources with Marie Audet
Marie Audet and her family are at the forefront of dairy farming in
Vermont. They operate a progressive, multi-generation farm with over
2,100 head (about 1,150 cows and 1,000 young stock). The various
business entities (Blue Spruce Inc. and Triple E Farms LLC) were
established years ago when the three brothers (Eugene, Earle and
Ernie) bought the farm from their father Norm. All together, they own
over 1,600 acres with leases on another 800.
It takes a significant amount of energy to feed cattle, and in return these cattle produce a comparable amount of waste, which Marie’s farm converts to methane gas for on-the-farm energy production.
Marie Audet answers some questions about how her family farm invests in practices that provide sustainable solutions to dairy farming and energy to the community.
DG – Interviewer Douglas Gayeton
MA – Interviewee Marie Audet
DG: Consolidation is a key theme in dairy farming across the country, isn’t it?
MA: We consolidate to be more efficient. Having a bigger family helps us become better farmers; we can specialize. My husband is a cow guy; he lives and breathes and sleeps with the cows all day long and cares for them along with my son and my nephew. My brother-in-law specializes in crop work and tractors. It’s about utilizing our talents and continually becoming better at what we do. We continue to grow better crops and we continue to do more with fewer resources. Most people are shocked to hear that since 1944 we’ve actually reduced our national herd by 64%. There are fewer dairy cows making us food, but we’ve increased the production of those cows by 37% percent. That has actually resulted in a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 63% per gallon of milk. Any industry should be bragging about those kinds of statistics.
DG: Can you explain the "GMP Cow Power Program?"
MA: In 2005 we investigated ways to manage the manure that our cows produce. Then Green Mountain Power did a study showing that consumers would support a program on dairy farms to capture manure and turn it into energy. That was enough to give us the confidence to move forward with the project and invest in a methane digester system that captures waste.
There are some input costs to grow the crops that feed our cows to make milk, but there’s a lot of energy left over when they poop it out. There’s methane gas in that manure, and we would prefer that harmful greenhouse gas not go into the atmosphere. Now we continually capture all the waste that goes on in the dairy and put it in digesters, which are big concrete swimming pools that continue the digestion process that began in the cow’s stomach. These digesters are 14 feet deep and filled with about 12 feet of manure. At the top methane gasses are naturally collected, which we use to generate electricity.
What’s unique about the Cow Power Program is that it is a community project supported by consumers. They say “We want farms in Vermont, we want them to be viable, we believe in renewable energy, we’re going to pay 4 cents more per kilowatt for some of our electricity for the farmer to do that job.”
It has been a wonderful relationship for all of us. It’s doing something that makes so much sense and it’s significant power. There are three cow power farms that all feed into one substation, and this substation provides the energy needs for over 2,000 homes and business locally. These farms are able to make 30% of those energy needs just from dairy farms.