Florida Pioneer Helped Power Larson Dairy to More Sustainable Future

DairyBusiness News Team

Shown from left, are Travis, Woody, Red, John and Jacob. (Travis and Jacob are Woody’s sons; Woody and John are brothers).

Before Florida dairy farmer Louis “Red” Larson passed away at the age of 96 last July, his family compiled a book called “Papa Red Said.” It was a tribute to one of the dairy industry’s true pioneers and contained many of his sayings that provided inspiration to his sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of those sayings was, “Do the right thing.”

Larson was involved with Brightmark Energy on a partnership project that would generate renewable natural gas from the construction and operation of four anaerobic digesters on the family’s dairies in Okeechobee County.

Though Larson died before he could see the project conclude, his presence very much was felt during a groundbreaking ceremony in November. One of his grandsons, Jacob Larson, recalled his grandfather’s impact on the partnership and how his simple but meaningful quote impacted their decision to move forward with such a large-scale project.

“You can bring that quote into any scenario, any setting in life and part of it is just our Christian moral fiber but we know to do the right thing,” Jacob Larson said. “The Larson family feels this is the right thing. It’s the right thing for the future, it’s the right thing for sustainability.”

Brightmark CEO Bob Powell also said Red Larson’s impact is felt as the project continues to evolve.

“He certainly is here in spirit and we feel his leadership as I know many dairy farmers do across the country,” Powell said.

The project will annually convert 230,000 tons of manure from 9,900 cows into renewable natural gas. The digesters are anticipated to generate about 171,000 MMBtu of renewable natural gas that will be delivered into the local interstate gas pipeline system. Many businesses depend on natural gas for cooking, steam production, water heating, power generation and other uses. Brightmark will develop, own and operate the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition to Jacob, the partnership includes his father Woody, brother Travis and his uncle John. Jacob said this is another example of the family’s commitment to being sustainable and a good neighbor to residents in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. By turning manure into renewable natural gas, the farm is doing its part to reclaim and repurpose methane from waste streams to preserve Florida’s air quality, address climate change and GHG emissions.

“Where we farm, we’ve been on the forefront of environment pressure since the 1980s,” Jacob said. “We’ve spent a lot of money to stay and farm here and we’ve put in best management practices to reduce nutrient runoff and to continue to recycle.”

Jacob Larson

Jacob Larson said he defines sustainability with two “buzz words.”

“No. 1 is human sustainability; producing food for us as human beings to sustain life,” he said. “The other word is profitability. Any business has to be profitable. This partnership allows us to not only do the right thing but to pick up a little extra revenue stream to help our businesses. So, we’re being environmentally responsible into the future while creating nature’s most perfect food for human sustainability.

“We’re excited about the partnership and we’re excited about the next generation being able to continue to farm.”

This is the latest in a series of projects launched by Brightmark over the past two years. The company also is working with dairy farmers in Washington, Wisconsin and New York. Powell said the company aims not to be disruptive to the farm’s top priority as it constructs the digesters.

“One of our goals when we go in like we did with Jacob and the rest of his family is to provide the benefits in a way that minimizes the on-farm impact of what we do,” Powell said. “We realize Jacob’s business is the dairy business. What we need to do is have an impact and footprint that allows them to be successful at what they do.”

Karen Scanlon, who serves as senior vice president of environmental stewardship for Dairy Management Inc., said the Larson-Brightmark partnership is an example of how farmers can achieve industrywide environmental stewardship goals. The goals, endorsed by dairy industry leaders and farmers, seek to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050. Scanlon said the industry also unveiled the Net Zero Initiative (NZI), an industrywide effort that will help dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices to meet the 2050 goals.

“This partnership is a great example of what makes the U.S. dairy industry so special and really makes U.S. dairy a leader to a more sustainable future,” Scanlon said. “This shows how dairy farmers are building on their legacy of environmental stewardship. It’s a lifelong value and a generational value of dairy farm families. They’re partnering with great innovative companies like Brightmark and finding that future for U.S. dairy as the industry pursues these goals.”

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