Dan DeGroot, Skyridge Farm, Sunnyside, WA
Meet Dan DeGroot, founder of Skyridge Farms. Ten years ago, DeGroot realized that if he wanted Skyridge Farms to be successful long into the future, he needed to remake the farm into a leading example of sustainability. His efforts have solved critical sustainability challenges, driving positive gains for the environment and his local community.
DeGroot's efforts are focused on creating a holistic, integrated environment that optimizes cow comfort, develops employees, and restores the environment. By systematically analyzing the full range of systems and processes required to create a truly sustainable dairy, he made well-researched changes to meet those goals. His efforts have resulted in more efficient use of water, energy, fuel, chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides across his farm. He also improved tilling practices, restored soil health and increased recycling.
DeGroot's vision, leadership and results make Skyridge Farms a sustainable dairy model that other producers can replicate. In fact, since implementing the composting system, 25 other dairies in Washington have established composting programs. After installing the initial programmable lighting and heating control unit at Skyridge, the electric company has installed 20 additional units in the Northwest.
Skyridge improved its technology base, including upgrades to controls, lighting, motors, fans, sensors and pumps, which aided in water and energy conservation. By implementing energy efficient technologies, DeGroot was able to reduce the amount of energy used by the dairy's lighting, ventilation fan, pumps and feed equipment. For example, by changing lighting fixtures for more energy-efficient lighting solutions, DeGroot reduced his energy usage more than 50 percent.
Virtually all manure at Skyridge is recycled on the farm. Manure solids are composted with used straw bedding from the dry lot areas and reused as bedding in the freestall barns. Composting also saves on fuel and energy previously used to import straw bedding and decreases the number of truckloads previously required to move manure off the farm by more than 600 annually, reducing fuel usage and carbon emissions.
Lagoon water is reused multiple times, eventually fertilizing crops. Bacteria that live in lagoon water loosen the clay and loam soil, improving water penetration and enhancing soil health. DeGroot also implemented a self-sustaining recycling program for plastic from ag-bags, twine from hay bales, and other plastic and corrugated packaging.
Responsible Land Management
DeGroot's aggressive land and manure management program enabled him to convert from deep plowing to low-till minimal impact plowing, saving labor, fuel, energy and money. Crop rotation and diversity improved soil health and reduced the need for chemical fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides—reducing the impact of his farming on the environment.
Small Steps Add Up
These efforts at Skyridge Farm, when combined with responsible dairy producers across the country, can really add up to create a more sustainable future for communities, business and the planet.
WWF and the Innovation Center for US Dairy are working together with dairy producers to share science-based practices and encourage stewards like DeGroot to develop and adopt sustainability practices in their operations.