DeGroot Family Farms in Sunnyside Wins Sustainability Award

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. - The DeGroot Family's Skyridge Farms in Sunnyside has received the "Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award" at the second annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in Washington D.C.

The awards recognize dairy farms for practices that deliver outstanding economic, environmental and/or social benefit. 

"Dan DeGroot applied a holistic approach to making upgrades at Skyridge Farms, a method that has resulted in improved cow comfort, increased efficiencies and enhanced profitability. Skyridge Farms is proof that small steps add up," said Erin Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

DeGroot says cows are social creatures who like consistency, so he has his employees milk, bed and feed the cows at the same time each day.  DeGroot also employs a yearly feed plan so he can keep his cows' rations as uniform as possible.  To provide the level of consistency, DeGroot, working with Taylor Electric in Yakima, installed a 'password-protected' Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) that runs several farm operations, including a soaker cooling system for the cows and barn fans.  DeGroot programmed the PLC so the frequency of the soakers and the fans' speed are temperature sensitive.  The higher the temperature, the more they work. 

The dairy also utilizes variable frequency drives (VFD) to control well pumps, milk pumps and vacuum pumps.  The variable drive motors provide enough energy to complete the task whether it is pumping and cooling the milk or circulating water around the dairy.  DeGroot says energy savings have ranged from 25% to 60%.

Since Skyridge Farms was built in 2003, DeGroot has studied every aspect of his dairy.  That included reconfiguring lighting in the milking parlor and holding pen. To make sure he was on the right track, DeGroot consulted with the Washington State University Energy Program. DeGroot retro fit the barn lighting switching from 400-watt metal halide fixtures to T5 florescent light. The new lighting system removed shadows and offered a more even and pleasing spectrum of light which improved his employees' work environment.  The new system also reduced the energy needed to light the barns by over 50%. DeGroot also installed energy-efficient high-volume-low-speed (HVLS) fans to prevent air stagnation and assist evaporative cooling with soakers in two barns.  They are 92% less expensive to run than conventional fans, largely because they require far less annual maintenance. DeGroot plans to continue to add HVLS fans in his other three barns.

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