Solar Power is Farm’s Latest Step in Quest for ‘Net Zero’

Producing delicious cheese is a daily goal of California cheesemaker Joseph Gallo Farms, maker of Joseph Farms Cheese. Doing it in a way that is sustainable and good for the planet brings the family an added sense of satisfaction.

In its quest to further reduce its carbon footprint, Gallo recently installed the largest privately owned solar energy system ever placed on a California dairy. The farm features nearly 8,000 solar panels over 8 acres.

But sustainable farming and cheesemaking practices have been a decades-long family commitment, according to Peter Gallo, a third-generation dairy farmer and cheesemaker. He said the emphasis began with his grandfather and picked up momentum 13 years ago when the farm installed a methane digester to convert cow manure into energy that decreases the farm’s dependence on fossil fuels.

But that is only part of the story. Joseph Gallo Farms uses energy-efficient equipment in its cheese plant that helps conserve at least 2.9 billion gallons of water each year. Additionally, it accepts about 10 million gallons of storm water and wastewater each day from local communities to irrigate crops that are grown to feed the cows.

This effort, along with the cumulative impact of their other efforts and commitment, resulted in Joseph Gallo Farms being recognized by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy with a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award in 2014. The program recognizes dairy farms, businesses and collaborative partnerships that are committed to stewardship and sustainability excellence.

“Our goal has always been to become net zero and emissions free and solar helps bring us closer to achieving that goal,” Gallo said. “Since we installed our methane digester, we have been looking at all types of renewable energy including solar. When we found a way to make it work we went all in and now we’re able to harness solar energy to power our dairy and farm.”

SolarCity, which installed the project and conducted research on its impact to the business, said the system will significantly reduce the farm’s need for electricity and avoid an estimated 27,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. This reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is equal to planting more than 706,000 trees in the next 20 years or removing more than 292 cars from the road annually, according to SolarCity.

Gallo said the prospect of adding more sustainable-friendly technology to his operation is an ongoing process. The next project on the horizon for Gallo is an absorption chiller, which will capture the heat from the biogas engines to create refrigeration.

“Every week we’re coming up with new ideas and discussing them to achieve that goal to become to net zero,” he said. “The technology is growing faster and faster and it’s really exciting to hear about something, investigate it and find ways to make it work for our operation.

“My family and I love making cheese. I think dairy farmers in general are hard-working family businesses and our community and environment are vital to all of us. That’s why sustainable projects are so important. It’s our family’s commitment to our customers, neighbors and planet.”