Colorado dairy industry finding ways to reduce carbon footprint
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A national dairy industry initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is getting a boost from Colorado’s main milk-hauling fleet, as well as from the state’s dairymen and milk processors.
Joining in the dairy industry’s voluntary effort to reduce U.S. dairy emissions by 25 percent by 2020, Dairy Farmers of America — the cooperative that hauls nearly all milk in Colorado from farms to processing facilities — continues moving toward quad-axle trucking rigs that can carry about 70,000 pounds of milk per load, up from the 50,000 pounds carried by DFA’s traditional milk trucks.
In addition to hauling about 40 percent more milk at once, the new trucks only lose about 12 percent in gas mileage compared to the regular trucks, according to David Williams, fleet manager of the DFA.
About five years ago, the DFA started its initiative with five of the new quad-axle rigs.
Now, 21 of DFA’s 50-plus milk haulers in Colorado are the newer, bigger trucks, and that alone has amounted to a reduction of more than 13,000 truck trips per year for the cooperative, Williams said.
That represents hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for the DFA’s approximately 18,000 members — in addition to a massive carbon-footprint reduction.
That efficiency and those savings will only increase, Williams added, as the DFA relocates one of its trucking hubs this year to Weld County, Colo. — where Leprino Foods operates an expanding cheese-processing facility, where about half of the state’s 131,000 dairy cattle already produce milk, and where even more dairies are popping up to support Leprino’s growth.
Currently, the DFA operates the trucking site in Henderson, Colo, near Denver.
“Obviously, moving closer to where the state’s dairy industry is growing will only help us,” Williams said, noting that the DFA is also looking at investing in natural-gas trucks when that technology becomes more economically feasible.
The DFA’s ongoing effort to reduce its emissions goes along with a plethora of smaller energy-saving efforts by the dairymen and milk processors in Colorado — a region already recognized as one of the most efficient in the industry.
Each year, Colorado ranks in the top three nationally in milk production per cow, ranking No. 1 many years.
Colorado’s dairymen now produce nearly 24,000 pounds of milk per cow each year — nearly five times what it was in the 1950s, according to Bill Wailes, a Colorado State University dairy specialist who’s followed the industry for decades.
That efficiency has helped Colorado reduce its number of dairy cattle from a peak of about 300,000 in 1934, to less than half of that today — all the while producing more milk.
Reducing the number of cattle means less resources — feed, water and energy — are needed by the industry.
Helping Colorado’s dairy efficiency, Wailes said, is the state’s climate, creating comfortable conditions for the cows, while also helping dairymen produce higher-quality forages — both of which provide big boosts to each cow’s milk production.
But another reason is Colorado’s dairymen themselves, Wailes said.
The state’s milk producers have been pioneers in using new feed rations that help in getting more milk production per cow, Wailes said.
And, in a constant effort to improve profit margins, local dairymen have gotten creative in other aspects of their operations.
“It’s all about reducing your input costs as much as possible,” said Charles Tucker, a dairyman near Pierce, Colo., who last summer installed a system that takes heat, generated by compressors that cool milk in his milk tanks, to warm water needed for sanitizing equipment, and also to generate heat for his milking parlor in the winter.
Those measures have cut his propane consumption — and costs — by about 75 percent, said Tucker, who about a decade ago, also installed variable-speed motors on his equipment, which, at different times of the milking process, can cut energy use by 75 percent.
The northern Colorado dairy industry is only expected to become more collectively efficient as new dairies with new technology — drawn here to supply the 50,000-plus cows needed by Leprino in Greeley, Colo., — continue going into operation, dairy experts say.
Local dairymen say as they expand or start new dairies, they’re doing so by installing energy-efficient heating systems, similar to that of Tucker’s, while also installing more efficient lighting systems, and taking other measures.
Right lighting — according to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which announced the industry’s voluntary emissions-reducing initiative — is needed to improve the safety and comfort of both cows and dairy workers.
Ted Wietecha, a spokesman for Leprino Foods, said the cheese-processing facility in Greeley will also continue adding energy-efficient technology as it continues to expand.
Larry Jensen, president of Leprino Foods, is a chair for Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
And while the local industry’s producers and processors continue becoming more efficient, so, too, will their transportation, DFA officials say.
“All the time, we’re looking at ways to be more efficient,” Williams said of the DFA’s trucking fleet. “It’s important to us to reduce our footprint, just like it is for the rest of the industry.” ❖
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.