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Biogas Production Process Dairy Farmers Selling Herds to Biodigest Grass

Biogas production from grass is a proven viable process. Today (2019) many UK dairy farmers have not only considered selling their herds, they've done just that.

Instead of cattle for milk, they are simply growing grass for direct feed into an anaerobic digestion plant, and storing silage for winter use. This makes good sense in wet areas of the UK, where grass grows well. But, successfully growing crops is hard. In these areas cereal growing can often result in poor yields, and failure to harvest can occur due to persistent wet weather.

A Biogas Plant Can Add 5p/litre to Dairy Income

One UK farm has gone so far as to publicise the added value of their biogas plant as providing an equivalent of 5p/litre on the milk they sell. That's a real benefit from the biogas production process, as explained in our video below:

You can view this on the YouTube website here.

Dairy Farmers Consider Selling Herds and Going for the Biogas production process
Dairy Farmers Consider Selling Herds

Although it is now fairly common for farms to cease milk production, it was a new development when this post was first written in August 2012. It was a time when UK milk prices at the farm gate were at a  historical low.

There were a number of dairy farmers who were, as shown by the reports of the time (copied below), considering selling their herds and going for biogas production instead.

Benefits of the On-farm Biogas Production Process

Adding a biogas plant to a farm, is partly about investment in an anaerobic digestion plant and the increased diversity that brings to farming. Diversity in any business tends to reduce risk of insolvency to the business in times of change.

For dairy farmers a biogas plant can do a lot to stabilise the financial prospects of a dairy farm, and “provide a nice hedge against the vagaries of the milk market, where prices can fluctuate wildly”. 

That quotation is taken from our first article, below, but there are more benefits than might at first be imagined.

Spin-off Benefits

We have often spoken about the spin-off benefits to farms in:

  • improved farm waste management,
  • reducing nitrogen run-off, and not least
  • the reduction in bought-in chemical fertiliser costs from using the biogas digester's own output of natural fertiliser, and soil improving fibrous material.

“Keeping a family-run farm strong”

What we did not previously appreciate was the benefit described in our articles in the benefit of a biogas process in keeping a family-run farm strong. A strong family is one which provides jobs for family members and the local community.

Splitting up farms among large families ultimately results in farm holdings too small to be viable. But, building a biogas plant creates jobs for interested family members to take part in. Skilled staff are needed to operate the biogas process and their salaries can easily be met by the income from the biogas.

This is a great way for a farming family to continue to grow with their financial stability assured across the generations.

Read on to find out more!

The first article below is from a UK perspective:

Dairy Farmers Consider Selling Herds As Milk Price Row Rumbles On

“Anaerobic Digestion (AD) specialist EnviTec Biogas UK has seen an increase in enquiries from farmers thinking about moving out of dairy. They are considering concentrating solely on power and heat generation.

said EnviTec, …  (August 2012) via [Link no longer available.]

Farmers are Going for Biogas Plants!

So, clearly, farmers in both nations are simultaneously coming to the same view, from the same pressures, and they are going for biogas plants.

They see these either as:

  • profitable additions to provide diversification to their dairy farms, or
  • as alternative business models cutting out the dairy and feeding all their grass to a biogas plant.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dairy Farming Versus Grass-Feeding a Biogas Plant

What we said in August 2012:

Personally, I would think it still to be a step too far to abandon milk production entirely in favour of AD and energy production. That's because surely the price of milk paid to dairy farmers in the UK will rise back up again.

The UK has experienced a very wet period. A return to a better milk price could, once the plentiful grass (and easy milk and cream production) of the last (very wet) three or four months becomes a distant memory. Hopefully, a wholesale milk price rise will occur as the autumn moves into winter, in a few months time.

However, that is not to say that grass and silage (stored for winter use) from farms in good grass growing regions of the UK, don't have a great feedstock to run a biogas digester on – all year round.

UK dairy farms are appreciably smaller than US farms

Benefits of the biogas production process to dairy farms can be 5p/litre on milk revenue.But, most UK dairy farms are smaller than US farms and are simply not large enough to feed a big biogas plant. A process plant big enough to provide economies of scale. And, pay the frequently high the upfront costs for the necessary power grid connections. We would therefore be surprised if the farmers of the UK will very often to be numbered among the dairy farmers that consider selling herds.

Of course, there are buyers emerging in the UK, who will take all the biogas from a large enough plant and upgrade it on-farm to CNG quality. They will also, tanker it off-site to supply the soon to be emerging chains of CNG (biomethane) powered “petrol stations”. These arrangements require no power output-to-grid connection.

From across the Atlantic we bring you our second article extract:

An Intangible But Crucial Benefit of the Farm Biogas Production Process

The anaerobic digestion system at Stonyvale Farm in Exeter, Maine is working perfectly. But besides producing heat and electricity, the biogas production process is playing a key role in keeping this family farm strong.
Exeter Agri-Energy, CFO and Dairy Operations Manager Travis Fogler comments.
“EAE worked closely with two partners to bring this anaerobic digestion system … But one “soft benefit” of the farm's new anaerobic digestion system is simply as a way to build the business, to keep our growing family together. via Exeteragrienergy

As ever, we encourage you to comment on the value of the biogas production process to farms. We would be interested in your views.

This page is an update of a page originally posted on 17 August 2012.

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