RUTLAND — High-tech modern equipment at large dairy farms can’t be operated without enough electricity. But farmers often can’t afford to upgrade their electrical service to provide three-phase power — a predicament that sometimes stops them from expanding operations to boost milk production.
But when the three partners at Milk Street dairy farm in Rutland decided to expand in 2011, they found out National Grid was willing to provide a $50,000 grant from its 3-Phase Power Incentive Program. That financial assistance from the utility helped the farm to finish a $2 million expansion project last year. Five new buildings were erected on the farm at 17272 County Road 161, including a free-stall dairy barn that will allow the farm to nearly triple its herd.
The move nearly tripled milk production at the farm, where co-owner John Ferry and officials from National Grid hosted a press conference Wednesday touting the project. The conference was held inside a high-tech milking parlor, in which Mr. Ferry said workers can milk 200 cows per hour.
“Single-phase equipment couldn’t power this facility,” Mr. Ferry said. “It feels good when you take risks on investments like this and see them pay off.”
The parlor will support the addition of 800 more cows over the next two years, he said, which will expand the herd size to 1,600. Mr. Ferry and two partners at Milk Street, Michael W. Hill and Michael Griep, will have invested about $10 million when the multiyear project is finished in 2015. The farm plans to nearly double its staff by that time, adding about 15 workers to its current 19.
Milk Street is the third farm in Jefferson County that National Grid has assisted, customer manager Gerald J. Haenlin said. North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor and Woods Farm in Cape Vincent also have secured grants from the energy provider in recent years.
“We created this grant program because farms and businesses in rural areas needed three-phase power to grow,” Mr. Haenlin said.
Jefferson County agricultural coordinator Jay M. Matteson said acquiring three-phase power is a common hurdle that prevents dairy farmers from expanding at a time when milk is in high demand statewide. By addressing that need, he said, the energy company’s program highlights the fundamental role agriculture plays as an economic backbone.
A study from Penn State University estimated that on average, one cow generates an economic impact of about $13,737 per year. When multiplied by 800 cows, that figure translates into an impact of nearly $11 million.
“That’s the total impact of the milk generated on this farm, to the cheese that’s packaged and sold in stores,” Mr. Matteson said. “What other industry here, besides government, has that kind of economic impact in our region?”
On a practical note, the expansion at the farm will mean milk tankers will haul away more milk each day. Right now, one 7,000-gallon load of milk leaves the farm each day. But “by the end of this year, we should be at three loads every two days,” Mr. Ferry said.
Following the press conference, Mr. Ferry gave local reporters a tour of the new 73,200-square-foot barn. Screened walls that span the length of the barn allow air to flow freely, and large fans to be installed this summer will keep the barn cool. The triangular ceiling, which peaks at a height of 50 feet, enables warm air produced by cattle to be pushed out of a gap in the roof. Mr. Ferry said the large, high-tech design is an uncommon sight at farms in the north country.
The enormous barn “makes the farm easier to manage, because the cows can eat and be milked at the same time,” he said.