By Evan Lawrence
Newmont Farm, in Fairlee, Vermont, recently completed a photovoltaic system that will supply about half the farm’s electricity.
Walter and Margaret Gladstone bought the former Mallary Farm in 1987. Their son Will joined them as owner in 2012. Other family members are also part of the farm’s team.
Newmont Farm’s mission, according to its website, is “to produce the highest quality milk by providing excellent animal care and being stewards of our land and environment. We strive to be a positive member of our community while fostering a safe team-oriented atmosphere for our employees and create a sustainable business for future generations.”
The Gladstones milk about 1,400 cows and have an equal number of young stock. They grow the corn and hay silage for their cows on about 1,700 acres and raise another 200 acres of pumpkins for the wholesale market.
Dairy farms have a heavy electricity demand for milking, feeding, and refrigeration equipment, lights, and machinery. At this time of low milk prices, farmers are looking for savings wherever they can. The Gladstones decided to install a photovoltaic system to help control their utility costs. Margaret Gladstone said they chose solar because an agricultural waste digester was too expensive and wasn’t compatible with their bedding material. Wind, she said, “appears to be very controversial.”
The array consists of 2,302 ground-mounted solar modules on about four acres in the town of Fairlee, near the town transfer station and handy to three-phase power lines.
Installation was done by Catamount Solar LLC, a member-owned workers’ cooperative with headquarters in Randolph, VT. The company designs and installs all types and sizes of grid-tied and off-grid solar-power systems, from the smallest off-grid cabin systems to large commercial solar fields, and everything in between in Vermont and New Hampshire. The Gladstones said they were pleased with Catamount’s work, noting that the workers carried on with digging holes for the racking system even when temperatures went below -20ºF.
The 72-cell, 320-watt panels were manufactured by Yingli Solar. The entire system can produce 500kW AC or 736.64kW DC. The inverters are SMA 30kW and 20kW. The racking system comes from RBI Solar. The panels were mounted higher than usual, so that another farmer can graze sheep under them, reducing the need for mowing.
The array will produce around 885MWh per year, saving the farm around $149,500 annually, Margaret Gladstone said. That’s equivalent to the power demand of 135 homes.
The array is expected to go live in late April or early May.
“The town of Fairlee was great to work with,” the Gladstones said. The town has expressed an interest in tying in to the system for its own renewable energy goals, either at that site or another nearby.
Newmont Farm has adopted other measures to make its operation more sustainable. Cows sometimes die on the farm. Rather than dumping the carcasses in a pit or sending them off the farm for disposal, dead animals are buried in fresh wood chips in a two-bay barn and allowed to decompose. The process goes quickly, and the compost can be safely returned to the fields as fertilizer.
Newmont uses sand as cow bedding, which becomes mixed with the cows’ manure. When the barns are cleaned, the manure and sand are taken to another building where the two are separated. The sand is washed with waste water from the milk house. About 80% of the sand is recovered and returned to the barns.
Newmont stores its corn and hay silage in bunker silos, concrete-lined trenches covered with plastic to allow the feed to ferment. Most dairy farms anchor the plastic with used tires. Many of Newmont’s tires were recovered from local roadsides in Green-Up Day collections or came from local garages that went out of business.
For more information about Newmont Farm and its sustainability features, visit the farm website at www.newmontfarm.com.
Evan Lawrence is a free-lance writer in Cambridge, NY, specializing in sustainability, environmental, and health topics.