Farmers of the Year
Duane and Marilyn Hershey
Duane and Marilyn Hershey of Ar-Joy Farms in Cochranville have found unique ways to keep their 830-cow milking operation innovative, and have positioned themselves to weather fluctuations in commodity pricing and input costs, no easy feat in the dairy industry these days.
The Hersheys, who sell their milk to the Land O’Lakes dairy cooperative to be processed into butter, chocolate and fluid milk, have been attracting recent acclaim for generating an additional product: energy. Through the installation of a manure digester, the Hersheys and their team are able to convert farm waste into energy and other useful byproducts. More prevalent in Europe, there are only a few of these impressive systems in Pennsylvania and theirs is the only one in Chester County.
The Hersheys were quick to recognize the benefits of installing a digester but the path forward was not without difficulty. “It took years of building relationships with PECO, grant funders and our neighbors to make it happen,” recalls Marilyn.
The digester converts cow manure, snack chip waste from a local potato chip company and used frying oil from area restaurants into methane gas, which is then burned to generate energy. The digester produces enough energy to power their farm and provide a surplus which the Hersheys sell back to PECO. Duane notes, “I really wanted this to manage the energy efficiency on the farm and to use the manure waste as a resource. It provides environmental benefits and a value-add for us. Some local dairies are diversifying by making cheese, we are making energy.”
The digester also produces byproducts including sterile bedding material the Hersheys use in their barns for cow bedding, as well as an odorless liquid fertilizer which is spread onto their crop fields, a practice which is well received by their neighbors.
The photo shows the manure digester installed at the farm to convert waste into energy and other useful byproducts.
Beyond the farm’s borders, the Hersheys are working with their fellow dairymen to increase industry cooperation. While most local dairies do not haul their own milk to the processing plant, ten years ago they started their own milk hauling company in partnership with farmers Walt and Ellen Moore of nearby Walmoore Holsteins. Doing their own hauling provides stability and economic efficiency for the two large dairies.
At the Farmer of the Year awards ceremony last fall, the Chester County Commissioners recognized that, “Duane and Marilyn Hershey embody the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit the county’s agricultural community is known for,” a sentiment shared by agricultural professionals across the county and beyond.
As if owning and operating a dairy farm with all of these moving parts wasn’t enough, Duane and Marilyn are also strong advocates for the dairy industry at the local, state and national levels. Marilyn, who received the 2017 Dairy Woman of the Year by the World Dairy Expo, writes a monthly column for Hoard’s Dairyman, a leading trade publication; serves on the National Dairy and Research Promotion Board and is Chair of Dairy Management, Inc., the nation’s dairy checkoff board for research and promotion.
In this role, she travels all over the country meeting with other dairy professionals and speaking about the dairy industry in a variety of public forums. Recently, she and her board have been working with the National Dairy Council and National Football League on a high-profile school nutrition and physical activity program, “Fuel Up to Play 60” to encourage children to make healthy choices.
Duane, an active member of their local community, serves as the chairman of the board of supervisors at West Fallowfield Township. He also serves on the Land O’Lakes national board which supports and markets dairy production across the country.
But whether they are travelling around the country to promote the dairy industry or hard at work on their own farm, it all comes down to community. Recalling a difficult time they faced when their barn roof collapsed in a blizzard in 2014, Marilyn says, “Over 100 neighbors, friends, employees current and past and other farmers came through the blizzard to help us. The township kept the roads plowed so help could get to us. The friendship, the community, that is what farming is all about.”
Each year the Chester County Board of Commissioners and the Ag Council select a Farmer(s) of the Year. View more information about our ag awards program and past winners.