While the Cooperative is committed to its use of alternative fuel in the Area, the road to a CNG-powered fleet was not an easy one. DFA had to negotiate a fair deal with its contracted hauling company, Western Dairy Transport, to establish pricing based on natural gas. And because part of the deal guarantees certain volumes of milk carried on CNG truck lanes, Ebert says the logistics of transporting milk from the farm to the plant have gotten more complicated.
“We’ve guaranteed to the hauler a certain number of loads or routes each day, and we’ve agreed to purchase a certain amount of fuel from AMP,” Ebert says. “You’re tied to specific volumes on lanes, which is hard to manage sometimes when you don’t know what a customer’s demand is going to be. You lose some flexibility.”
In addition, the transition to CNG wasn’t cheap, with CNG-powered trucks costing as much as $50,000 more than regular diesel trucks — and with recent low diesel prices, the Cooperative hasn’t started to see the economic advantages yet. But Ebert says he anticipates the CNG project to be economically advantageous over the long term.
“It’s not making us a lot of money right now, but it’s not costing anything additional either, and if diesel prices go back to recent historical norms, it will make us some money and reduce our fuel expense significantly,” he says. “The other benefit is the ability to fulfill the potential needs or wants of our consumers by providing a more sustainable product.”
As sustainability continues to be a focus for customers, consumers and the dairy industry, DFA’s use of biodiesel and CNG places the Cooperative at the forefront of alternative energy practices and positions DFA for future success.
“I can see a day where the reduced carbon footprint could be something we use to our advantage, and maybe something our customers will request from us,” Ebert says. “I can see a world where that becomes a requirement.”