Brightly colored stand mixers are increasingly popular kitchen tools. But did you know that stationary, electric mixers are also becoming culinary staples on California’s family dairy farms? Dairy farmers are partnering with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) to invest in electric mixers—reducing diesel use and providing tremendous environmental benefits.
In 2019, the Vander Dussen family’s Double Diamond Dairy in Merced County was one of the first to install an electric feed mixer through the Electrified Dairy Feed Mixing Program. Third-generation dairy farmers Michael and Wendy Vander Dussen have four children, ages 17 to 22. Their family has been dairy farming in California since the late 1940s, when their ancestors immigrated from the Netherlands. Michael says the District’s incentive program was a terrific opportunity for their farm, making it financially feasible to modernize equipment and help improve air quality.
“I grew up in Southern California, where we used to dairy farm in the Chino Valley,” Michael said. “I know the importance of clean air, and I have seen improvements made over the years. I’m in favor of doing what we can on the farm to continue cleaning the air we all breathe.”
The switch to electric mixers
The feed mixer is an integral part of a dairy’s everyday operation. Cows are fed a ration of forages, grains, and other ingredients that are carefully planned, measured, and mixed to provide optimal nutrition. In California, more than 40 percent of dairy feed ingredients are agricultural byproducts, such as almond hulls or citrus pulp. Feed is a farm’s greatest expenditure, and perfecting dairy cow nutrition is the where dairy farmers and their consultants spend much of their mental energy and efforts. The new electric feed mixers help by ensuring a very consistent blend, while also making the daily feeding process more efficient and environmentally friendly.
Traditionally, cows’ meals or total mixed (TMRs) are blended in diesel-powered box mixers attached to tractors. Diesel trucks or tractors are also used to deliver the feed to animals throughout the farm. By electrifying the mixers, time spent operating diesel-powered equipment is essentially cut in half. Depending on the size of the dairy, this can mean reducing diesel fuel use by 40 to 60 thousand gallons a year.
Powered by the sun
The transition from diesel power to electricity can be a significant challenge for farmers in California, where rising energy costs are already about two to three times higher than the national average. However, most dairy farms installing electric mixers are also investing in large arrays of solar panels. By powering their operations with clean solar energy captured on the dairy, farmers contribute to the state’s clean energy goals, while also controlling their costs. Many farms like Double Diamond Dairy are also planning to install digesters, which will capture methane emissions from manure and create clean electricity or carbon-negative transportation fuel.
An important partnership
Dairy farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have been making air quality improvements for many years by replacing tractors, electrifying irrigation pumps, and other efforts, often incentived by the District. The Electrified Dairy Feed Mixing Program is the latest example of this long-time partnership. It provides dairy farmers with up to 65 percent of the total cost of eligible equipment and infrastructure, up to a maximum cost effectiveness of $30,000 per ton of emissions reduced. The District aims to have the program approved by the California Air Resources Board for State Implementation Plan (SIP) credit. This would allow the reductions achieved to help the state meet federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements. So far, four farms have installed electric mixers and another nine have projects under construction. Ten more applications are in the queue.
“It’s very positive to see dairy farmers continually partnering to invest in cleaner technologies,” said Todd DeYoung, Director of Grants and Incentives for the District. “Public/private partnerships, such as this one with dairy farmers, have been instrumental in the Valley’s air quality improvements over the past decade. The electric feed mixer program has shown great promise, as we continue to work toward ever-tightening state and federal air quality standards.”
Cleaning the San Joaquin Valley Air
The electric mixer program was inspired by Hanford dairy farmer Phillip Verwey, who wanted to reduce emissions from his farm. His project served as the pilot for the resulting incentive program. The first 14 electric mixer projects (including Philip’s) are estimated to reduce a total of more than 950 tons of smog-forming emissions over 10 years. Most of the emissions that are being reduced are known as nitrous oxides (NOx). This means the program is helping reduce smog-forming gases, improving air quality while also providing climate benefits. To put the air quality benefits into perspective, reductions achieved to date are equivalent to removing more than 370,000 cars from the road.
“When Philip originally came up with this concept, we thought it could help dairy farmers achieve 50 or maybe 100 tons of emission reductions cumulatively,” said Kevin Abernathy, General Manager of Milk Producers Council. “We never imagined it would have this big of an impact.”
Sustaining family farms
Electric feed mixers make sense for California’s dairy farm families, who are constantly innovating to improve the sustainability of their operations. For the Vander Dussens, the ultimate goal is to pass the farm to next generation, and continue to provide enjoyable, nutritious foods.
“Our girls are foodies,” Wendy said. “They come home from college with recipes, and we love to try new, healthy meals. It’s great to know that our farm helps provide wholesome foods and ingredients for families like ours.”
As they mix things up on the farm, dairy families remain committed to sustainability.