Alliance Dairies

Pumping up production through self-sufficient farming
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

From the forages consumed by 6,000 cows to the fertilizer spread across 4,000 acres of cropland, Alliance Dairies is setting an example of maximized efficiency through vertical integration on the farm. “Our goal is to remain very efficient in the way in which we produce high-quality products,” says Ron St. John, managing partner of Alliance Dairies. “We have the capabilities of growing our own forages, such as corn and sorghum, and while there are dairies nationally that do this, we tend to be the exception in the southeast.”

The Florida-based dairy farm also recycles water, animal bedding and applies effluent as organic fertilizer to crops instead of buying bulk commercial fertilizer. Aside from these every day practices, Alliance Dairies has made great strides in sustainable farming by recently implementing the use of a methane digester. Effectively converting manure into electricity, Alliance Dairies is able to supply more than 70 percent of the dairy’s daily electrical demand.

As the company quickly approaches its 25-year anniversary, this vertical integration is leading to record growth. “We’re on track for a banner year,” reveals St. John. “Our revenues are expected to increase by 10 to 12 percent in 2014 and while part of that increase is due to record high milk prices, a significant part of our growth is due to the synergies that we create within our own companies.”

Alliance Dairies

The first of many other firsts

Established in 1990 by St. John and his partner, William “Sandy” McArthur, Alliance Dairies was the first Florida Department of Environmental Protection permitted dairy in northern Florida. Today, the company is the largest free-stall dairy in one location within the state, employing more than 100 people. The farm’s Holstein herd of more than 11,000 animals consists of more than 6,000 mature cows and over 5,000 accompanying young stock.

Based in Trenton, Fla., Alliance Dairies is one of the largest in the area, managing approximately 6,000 acres of which 4,000 is cropland. St. John, who’s been in the dairy industry his whole life, grew the business with the help of his partner.

“I’ve always been in the dairy business,” says St. John, who graduated from Cornell University in 1968 with a degree in ag-economics. “Sandy and I have been managing Alliance Dairies for more than 24 years.” St. John continues to participate in the strategic decisions of the company, but has been less hands-on in recent years.

Alliance Dairies exists with two sister companies. “The dairy is the main operation, but we also own Alliance Grazing Group and Suwannee Valley Feeds,” St. John continues. Alliance Grazing Group operates three dairies nearby where cows are milked twice a day and are housed outside in a free-range style. Alliance Grazing Group also operates a replacement farm where all heifer calves are grown for the three dairies. Suwannee Valley Feeds, located in Trenton, supplies commodities and manufactured feeds to both Alliance Dairies and Alliance Grazing Group, as well as other regional dairy and beef producers.

With four locations in Florida, the majority of Alliance Dairies’ milk stays in state and ends up in the cold cases of grocers, such as Publix. “There are some 22 million people in Florida and only about 130 dairies, so what we produce stays here,” shares St. John. “Publix is a premier marketplace for our products. Approximately 85 percent of our milk is bottled and sold through our cooperative, Southeast Milk Inc.”

A waste full solution

With in-house integration, Alliance Dairies is working toward a goal of more waste full solutions. “At Alliance Dairies, we’re firm believers in utilizing renewable resources,” says St. John. “Why waste something you already have at your fingertips?”

Therefore, more than 80 percent of animal bedding is recycled and effluent waste is applied to cropland as organic fertilizer through center pivot irrigation. “Nutrient is recycled through plants that are harvested to meet the dietary needs of the cattle,” explains St. John. “The herd also consumes byproducts that would normally end up in a landfill – citrus pulp, wet brewers grain, distillers grain, cottonseed and cottonseed hulls. In total, about 32,000 tons of byproduct is consumed by the herd as a reliable feed source, comprising almost a third of their diet.”

While all of these practices make for a more environmentally friendly farm, Alliance Dairies’ biggest new sustainability development, by far, is the construction of the anaerobic methane digester. Anaerobic digestion is the process of bacteria breaking down organic matter to release methane gas and that gas is capable of powering a typical internal combustion motor. At Alliance Dairies, that motor runs an electric generator that supplies more than 70 percent of the farms electrical requirements.

The manure effluent is housed in a long, covered pit, with a 90,000-square-foot footprint 16 feet deep, where the biogas collects under a gas-tight cover. The gas is then drawn off and fuels a 1,000-kilowatt generator. “For us, this process is part of what we’re calling a waste full solution, because we’re taking a waste byproduct and turning it into useable energy,” explains St. John.

Cows produce more than 100 pounds of waste per day. “We’re taking poop and turning it into power,” jokes St. John. However, the benefits of the poop-to-power program are serious for Alliance Dairies. The farm estimates that the digester will pay for itself in less than five years. According to St. John, there is also the potential savings in carbon emission credits and the sale of digested solids as a soil amendment.

“In this business it’s all about maximizing production and controlling costs - those are the keys to success,” reveals St. John. Alliance Dairies has found a key to a more efficient, productive operation by finding its own self-sustaining solutions.

From the forages consumed by 6,000 cows to the fertilizer spread across 4,000 acres of cropland, Alliance Dairies is setting an example of maximized efficiency through vertical integration on the farm. “Our goal is to remain very efficient in the way in which we produce high-quality products,” says Ron St. John, managing partner of Alliance Dairies. “We have the capabilities of growing our own forages, such as corn and sorghum, and while there are dairies nationally that do this, we tend to be the exception in the southeast.”

The Florida-based dairy farm also recycles water, animal bedding and applies effluent as organic fertilizer to crops instead of buying bulk commercial fertilizer. Aside from these every day practices, Alliance Dairies has made great strides in sustainable farming by recently implementing the use of a methane digester. Effectively converting manure into electricity, Alliance Dairies is able to supply more than 70 percent of the dairy’s daily electrical demand.

As the company quickly approaches its 25-year anniversary, this vertical integration is leading to record growth. “We’re on track for a banner year,” reveals St. John. “Our revenues are expected to increase by 10 to 12 percent in 2014 and while part of that increase is due to record high milk prices, a significant part of our growth is due to the synergies that we create within our own companies.”

The first of many other firsts

Established in 1990 by St. John and his partner, William “Sandy” McArthur, Alliance Dairies was the first Florida Department of Environmental Protection permitted dairy in northern Florida. Today, the company is the largest free-stall dairy in one location within the state, employing more than 100 people. The farm’s Holstein herd of more than 11,000 animals consists of more than 6,000 mature cows and over 5,000 accompanying young stock.

Based in Trenton, Fla., Alliance Dairies is one of the largest in the area, managing approximately 6,000 acres of which 4,000 is cropland. St. John, who’s been in the dairy industry his whole life, grew the business with the help of his partner.

“I’ve always been in the dairy business,” says St. John, who graduated from Cornell University in 1968 with a degree in ag-economics. “Sandy and I have been managing Alliance Dairies for more than 24 years.” St. John continues to participate in the strategic decisions of the company, but has been less hands-on in recent years.

Alliance Dairies exists with two sister companies. “The dairy is the main operation, but we also own Alliance Grazing Group and Suwannee Valley Feeds,” St. John continues. Alliance Grazing Group operates three dairies nearby where cows are milked twice a day and are housed outside in a free-range style. Alliance Grazing Group also operates a replacement farm where all heifer calves are grown for the three dairies. Suwannee Valley Feeds, located in Trenton, supplies commodities and manufactured feeds to both Alliance Dairies and Alliance Grazing Group, as well as other regional dairy and beef producers.

With four locations in Florida, the majority of Alliance Dairies’ milk stays in state and ends up in the cold cases of grocers, such as Publix. “There are some 22 million people in Florida and only about 130 dairies, so what we produce stays here,” shares St. John. “Publix is a premier marketplace for our products. Approximately 85 percent of our milk is bottled and sold through our cooperative, Southeast Milk Inc.”

A waste full solution

With in-house integration, Alliance Dairies is working toward a goal of more waste full solutions. “At Alliance Dairies, we’re firm believers in utilizing renewable resources,” says St. John. “Why waste something you already have at your fingertips?”

Therefore, more than 80 percent of animal bedding is recycled and effluent waste is applied to cropland as organic fertilizer through center pivot irrigation. “Nutrient is recycled through plants that are harvested to meet the dietary needs of the cattle,” explains St. John. “The herd also consumes byproducts that would normally end up in a landfill – citrus pulp, wet brewers grain, distillers grain, cottonseed and cottonseed hulls. In total, about 32,000 tons of byproduct is consumed by the herd as a reliable feed source, comprising almost a third of their diet.”

While all of these practices make for a more environmentally friendly farm, Alliance Dairies’ biggest new sustainability development, by far, is the construction of the anaerobic methane digester. Anaerobic digestion is the process of bacteria breaking down organic matter to release methane gas and that gas is capable of powering a typical internal combustion motor. At Alliance Dairies, that motor runs an electric generator that supplies more than 70 percent of the farms electrical requirements.

The manure effluent is housed in a long, covered pit, with a 90,000-square-foot footprint 16 feet deep, where the biogas collects under a gas-tight cover. The gas is then drawn off and fuels a 1,000-kilowatt generator. “For us, this process is part of what we’re calling a waste full solution, because we’re taking a waste byproduct and turning it into useable energy,” explains St. John.

Cows produce more than 100 pounds of waste per day. “We’re taking poop and turning it into power,” jokes St. John. However, the benefits of the poop-to-power program are serious for Alliance Dairies. The farm estimates that the digester will pay for itself in less than five years. According to St. John, there is also the potential savings in carbon emission credits and the sale of digested solids as a soil amendment.

“In this business it’s all about maximizing production and controlling costs - those are the keys to success,” reveals St. John. Alliance Dairies has found a key to a more efficient, productive operation by finding its own self-sustaining solutions.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Crop Production Services (CPS)
DVO Anaerobic Digesters
Valley Agricultural Software