Digester Comes in Handy in Time of Low Milk Prices

At a time when Dairy Farms are struggling to make ends meet, Kulik files bill to increase Dairy Tax Credit. Currently in the Joint Committee on Revenue, Kulik’s bill would increase tax credit allotment from $4 million to $8 million annually.

SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Sustainability is one of the main focuses of Pine Island Farm in Sheffield as Louis and Holly Aragi have installed an on-farm methane digester, allowing them to make energy from their cows’ manure.

“We’re trying to offset a lot of things with this project,” said Holly Aragi, whose husband co-owns the farm with his father. “It may not be things that are generated in a check format, but it’s things that we benefit from. From helping maintain the environment by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to eliminating bedding costs and avoiding costs, which means saving money. It all complements one another.”

The digester helps offset the costs of producing milk, including providing heat, hot water and bedding for the cows.

She said this type of out-of-the-box thinking is critical to maintaining the operation, especially in light of low milk prices.

“We’re trying to stay with the times and think different,” she said. “It’s a struggle, but you can’t forget that we always are relying on food. You must improve on your farming methods and always take care of your animals and our Earth, too.”

For their commitment to sustainability, Pine Island Farm has been named Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year in Massachusetts.

“I can’t express enough that to get an award like this, it’s all about the people that we have working for us,” she said. “We have such a phenomenal work crew, some of which have worked for us for 20-plus years. From crop people to mechanics to electricians to cow people, we got an all-around good group of guys. It’s definitely a group effort.”

A third-generation dairy farm, the Aragis currently farm on more than 1,500 acres, making hired help a necessity.

“This award is not something that we can just take credit for,” she said. “Without a group of hard-working guys, I don’t see how you can be efficient. You need that good group of guys.”

In addition to her crew, Aragi is hoping that her children will return to the farm when they are adults.

“We hope our kids will come back,” she said. “But there’s so much variability and the day-to-day struggle. You kind of wonder do you want kids going through all that.”

One thing that is currently helping dairy farmers in Massachusetts is the state’s dairy tax credit, which allows a farmer to claim an income tax credit on their taxes if the Federal Milk Marketing Order price drops below a preset trigger price at any time during the taxable year.

“The dairy tax credit is extremely important to dairy farmers in the commonwealth,” she said. “It keeps farmers alive. Massachusetts really helps us out a lot. I don’t know how other farmers in other states are doing it without the help of the state. It’s important that the legislators realize the importance of the dairy tax credit.”

A bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, would double the annual cap on the tax credit to $8 million.

“It’s just the variability all the time,” Aragi said about the milk market. “You never know. It seems like a crazy market anymore. It’s mainly the variables. Input costs go up and down like a yo-yo, and the milk prices go down.”

Despite the market’s ever-changing nature, Aragi is optimistic about the future of Pine Island Farm.

“I’m hoping that someday people will look back on us and say these people were trying,” she said. “We’re trying to make a better Earth and the environment, and produce a good, quality product. That’s something that will be important for my kids’ kids. “

For more information on Pine Island Farm, visit http://www.pineislandfarmdigester.com/.