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How a dairy farm is utilizing renewable vitality to cut back fastened prices

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An anaerobic digester (AD) plant, modifications in cropping and cultivations, and a rising vary of electrical farm equipment are all serving to Stephen Temple cut back fastened prices at Copys Inexperienced Farm, Wighton, near the north Norfolk coast.

Adjustments to slurry storage rules 12 years in the past signalled the beginning of a brand new method.

The ruling, that for muck to be saved in a subject, it needed to be strong sufficient to stack in a heap, introduced Dr Temple with an issue.

“I didn’t need to spend some huge cash simply to fulfill new rules, however needed to earn cash as properly,” he says.

See additionally: How slurry inoculants helped halve farmer fertiliser use

Farm details

Copys Inexperienced Farm, Norfolk

  • 130 pedigree Brown Swiss cows, plus youngstock
  • Calving year-round
  • Twice-a-day milking
  • Common yield 7,500 litres/12 months, at 4.16% butterfat and three.49% protein
  • One-third of milk used to provide Mrs Temple’s Cheese on-farm
  • Two-thirds of milk bought to Arla
  • 46ha (114 acres) grass leys for grazing and silage
  • 29ha (72 acres) everlasting pasture
  • 101ha (250 acres) forage maize
  • 20ha (49 acres) lucerne
  • 8ha (20 acres) spring beans for feed
  • 45ha (111acres) winter and spring barley for seed

AD plant

The answer was an on-farm AD plant.

Producing vitality from waste had all the time been behind his thoughts: a skilled engineer, he had helped construct a easy plant whereas working in Malawi within the late 1970s.

Putting in one on his farm may resolve the slurry storage downside and produce energy, warmth and high-quality, constant fertiliser.

“The timing labored properly for us, as my father had not too long ago died, and we had a farm sale that launched some capital for the plant. It will have been onerous work [to finance] on an overdraft.”

The AD plant value about £800,000, with a projected payback of eight years, later revised to 9 years due to teething issues.

“The primary engine within the mixed warmth and energy unit was less than the job and had to get replaced,” explains Dr Temple.

“So we actually solely began producing [electricity] correctly after 15 months of gasoline manufacturing.”

All of the slurry from the farm’s 130 dairy cows is fed to the digester, along with 200t of maize silage a month.

Whey from the farm’s cheesemaking, run by Dr Temple’s spouse, Catherine, additionally goes within the digester. And, extra not too long ago, lucerne has been added to the combination.

The ensuing digestate is separated into strong and liquid elements and used as fertiliser.

The liquid is saved in two lagoons with a mixed storage of 4,000cu m – sufficient for 10 months – and utilized to fields with a trailing shoe tanker.

Solids drop right into a trailer for weekly transportation to fields not linked to the farm’s underground important for the liquid and are saved in heaps, prepared for spreading.

Strip tillage

In addition to financial savings on bought-in fertiliser, fastened prices related to rising maize have been diminished by shifting from a plough and energy harrow-based system to strip tillage. Different crops are direct-drilled.

Brief-term grass leys are sown after barley, harvested the next Might for first-cut silage, irrigated, after which the bottom is ready for maize utilizing strip tillage.

This fashion, three totally different crops are grown on the identical subject in two years.

In different fields, winter cowl crops – typically a mixture of a cereal and a brassica – are established after harvest to guard the soil till maize is sown.

Low-cost lucerne

Switching from fodder beet to lucerne as a part of the cows’ ration and as feed for the digester has additionally diminished the variety of passes within the subject.

Final 12 months, 380t was harvested, offering a mean of 25t/month for the digester and 12t/month – or 10% of the feed ration – for the cows.

“Lucerne is a really low-input crop, and ideally suited to the farm’s chalky soils,” says Dr Temple.

“It’s handled with one herbicide in winter, receives one dose of digestate and, as a legume, it wants no nitrogen. We take 4 cuts a 12 months.

“Because it’s within the floor for 5 – 6 years, it doesn’t actually match neatly right into a rotation.

“However we are going to put it in following a maize crop, then six years later take a primary reduce earlier than strip-tilling maize into the stubble, adopted by barley.

“We’re making an attempt to step by step transfer it across the farm, however it should take some time. It does wonders for soil construction and fertility.”

Electrical energy technology

Fuel from the AD plant produces as much as 170kW of electrical energy for the farm and the grid.

The method additionally generates warmth, which is used for grain drying, cheesemaking, the farmhouse, workplace and three cottages.

Warmth can also be used for decent water within the dairy, together with a each day machine-wash of reusable udder wipes, and heat ingesting water for the cows in winter.

Changing diesel with electrical energy

The farm’s first electrical farm car, a 12-year-old John Deere Gator, was purchased to make use of for fetching the cows in for milking.

John Deere Gator © MAG/Judith Tooth

It was a second-hand mannequin from a neighborhood council and value about £2,500.

It was fairly rusty, so Dr Temple stripped it down, had it galvanised, at a price of £500, and fitted a brand new set of batteries for £1,000.

“It’s made for golf programs and utility makes use of, and the suspension is inferior to the diesel ones, that are extra suited to hill farms.

“However on a lowland farm, it’s good. It’s actually a motorised wheelbarrow, and it prices subsequent to nothing to run.”

A DGM 800E electrical loader has simply been delivered to the farm.

DGM 800E electric loader

DGM 800E electrical loader © MAG/Judith Tooth

It’s too small for heavy loading, however is being modified to hold a front-mounted slurry scraper, changing a “very drained” tractor.

With an inventory worth of £9,750, it had a fault that couldn’t be resolved by the seller, so Dr Temple purchased it as a non-runner at a considerable low cost and glued it.

“The choice was one other tractor,” he says.

“I may have gotten one thing a bit higher [than what we have] for a similar worth, however one thing considerably higher would have value £20,000.”

The AD plant additionally powers three electrical vehicles: a six-year-old Tesla, purchased second-hand; a Nissan Leaf, utilized by farm’s full-time engineer and a Renault Zoe, used for delivering cheese, gathering spare elements and so forth.

“The extra we use electrical energy, the higher,” he says.

“And there are principally no servicing prices – two of the electrical vehicles have a minor service annually, and the third doesn’t even should be serviced to maintain its guarantee.”

An electrical bore pump has changed a diesel engine that was used to pump water for irrigating grass.

It’s a static setup and operating an electrical wire to it was a considerable funding, at £10,000.

However it’s a lot easier to make use of, as it may be operated remotely utilizing a cell phone app.

Subsequent to purchase is a bigger loader. JCB’s electrical fashions are 40% dearer than its diesel counterparts, in keeping with Dr Temple.

As a substitute, he’s hoping to check out a Faresin Telehandler 6.26, now that it has flotation wheels to offer higher floor clearance.

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