When our members see an opportunity to increase efficiency on their farms, and improve profits, they’re eager to try it. Whether its feed additives, precision ag tools or new seed technology, Land O’Lakes’ member-owners often find themselves on the forefront of modern farming.
But sometimes, there’s an on-farm problem that isn’t solved by a new technology–it calls for an existing one. One of those issues facing farms of all sizes today is plastic waste. Farms use plastic in many ways – as bale wraps, covers on bunker silos and silage bags – to name a few. Plastic is easy to use, relatively inexpensive and prevents silage loss. And, it’s immensely popular. American farms use an estimated one billion pounds of plastic each year.
Unfortunately, this ag plastic isn’t reusable, which leaves farms with large amounts of unwieldy, dirty plastic as an unwanted byproduct. So, what are farmers to do with it?
After hearing that question from members, Tim Patchin, a senior dairy services adviser with Land O’Lakes based in Wisconsin, found himself looking for a solution at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin last year. Fortunately for Tim, Revolution Plastics, a Wisconsin farm plastic recycling company was also at the show.
“The concept of recycling ag plastic has been around a long time,” Tim says. “People have tried it in a lot of different forms. It’s never seemed to really take off.”
Tim discussed our members’ needs with Revolution, and learned that they were expanding into more territories that overlapped with member farms, including parts of Minnesota. Revolutions’ growth matched members’ needs in the area perfectly.
“Revolution has a different spin on it in that they are able to clean and use the plastic,” Tim explains. “They have several products that they make with it.”
Working with the newly launched Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN business, Tim and Land O’Lakes developed a pilot program for ridding the farms of plastic in an ecologically friendly way.
“Members are the original stewards of the environment. They are always looking for ways to improve the sustainability of their operation,” Tai Ullmann, sustainability manager with Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, says. “When we originally started looking at recycling opportunities, their feedback was critical to finding the right solution. It also highlights the importance of our partnership with Revolution Plastics to provide a solution that meets our needs.”
One of the most appealing parts of how Revolution works with farmers, Tim says, is how easy they make it for members.
“There’s no cost, there’s no tipping fee. The company comes and places the dumpster on-farm,” he says. “Other programs in the past had attempted to get a regional collection site. So, the farm would have to collect their plastic over a certain period of time and drive it to a recycling area and drop it. A lot of times, it turned into big piles of plastic that never got taken anywhere.”
Revolution works with farmers to schedule planned pick-ups, but they will also come out as needed.
“Let’s say you open up three bunkers and fill it right away, all you have to do is call them up, and they’ll schedule an additional pick up,” he says.
And in the few months since the program started, members have been eager to sign up. Tim says when members hear about the recycling program, “It’s just, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
Although geographically small, the program is an example of how Land O’Lakes size and scale can open the door to valuable products and services for members. It’s also another example of how we can proactively respond to a changing industry.
“Sustainability is increasingly becoming important to the future of agriculture in several ways. Consumers want to know where and how their food is produced,” Tai says. “Consumers and customers’ influence on the future of agriculture will grow, and it is important we are understanding, influencing and meeting their needs.”
Problem-solving programs like this are another indication of Land O’Lakes’ commitment to providing solutions to our members.
But it’s also an expression of our members’ values.
“It highlights how much the industry–and our members in particular–strive to not only make their business more effective, but be responsible,” Tim says. “The interest level, and the speed at which members signed up are indicative of that.”
If you live in Wisconsin or Stearns County or Winona County, Minnesota, and are interested in participating, visit https://www.revolutionplastics.com for more information and to sign up. Once you reach out, Revolution Plastics will provide specific details on participation, including pick up requirements and schedules.
If the program continues to grow, Revolution Plastics is hoping to expand its services across the state of Minnesota by the end of 2017. We’re also looking for opportunities to replicate this type of service offering in other milk sheds across the country.