Energy and Innovation

July 22, 2022

Nestled in the country outside of Little Falls, Myron Czech and his wife Debbie own and operate Pike Hills Dairy. Their son Brent is also part-owner. In the last several years, Pike Hills Dairy has taken advantage of new technologies and innovative farming solutions to help with daily operations. The Czechs plan to add even more innovative operations into the future.

Myron Czech grew up on the family farm in Little Falls. Owning and operating the farm was always the plan, ever since he was little. Once he graduated from college, he came back to Little Falls to help run the family farm.

“When I graduated, we had 27 stalls. The first thing I did when came back to the farm was increase that to 66 stalls,” he recalled.

When his neighbors down the road retired 25 years ago, the Czechs purchased their farm, too. Today, they operate a 1,000-cow dairy farm and 1,300 acres of farmland at the Pike HIlls Dairy location.

Myron has always had a vision for his farming operation and has taken advantage of new technologies and energy efficiency rebates to help grow the farm and provide comfort for his livestock.

“I don’t mind being on the cutting edge of a new project, but I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge,” he explained.

“I’d rather let others get the kinks out before implementing something new.”

This mindset has led to some well thought out and innovative upgrades at the farm.

One of those things is the basement of the milking parlor, which helps keep equipment safe and allows for future technology to be installed.

Though the barn looks like something you’d expect to see from the outside, as you walk around the new barn, which was completed in June 2021, you’ll notice several other upgrades which provide enhanced comfort for the cows and time-saving measures for employees.

These include a ventilation system that keeps wind speeds controlled to around 7 mph at all times, essentially keeping the cows cool, and polycarbonate siding, which protects the cows against the elements in Minnesota but still allows natural sunlight into the barn.

The most innovative addition, however, is the automated manure management system. Though not unique to farms in Central Minnesota, this installation is phase one of a larger project to eventually install a methane digester on the farm.

Partly economically driven and partly environmentally driven, Czech says “it’s the right thing to do with what we know today.”

The manure from the barn is scraped across the floor to an electric auger, which carries it across the barn into a pit. Once there, it is transferred through a manure room and pumped out into a manure pit.

Future plans are to haul the manure 16 miles away to another farm where they are currently in the planning stages of a methane digester, which will extract the methane from the manure. The manure will then come back to Pike Hills Dairy where it will be stored until it is time to spread over the fields.

The extracted methane will eventually be sent to an injection point and introduced to the natural gas pipeline. That same natural gas gets sent across Central Minnesota and beyond to heat homes and businesses.

If things continue to develop, it’s possible a methane digester could be installed at Pike Hills Dairy in Little Falls so they would no longer have to transport the manure 16 miles both ways. This is an extensive process, however, which would take several years to implement.

Additionally, they have plans to install a separating system in the existing manure room. This will allow the Czechs to separate the sand, which is used for cow bedding, from the manure. From there, the manure will continue along the process outlined above while the sand will be dried and reused again for bedding.

“There is always a chance technology will change throughout the process and you will need something additional that you didn’t plan for initially,” Myron explained. “With farming, the greatest challenges for me are the unintended consequences of implementing new equipment and technology. There’s always the ‘next thing’ that surprises you.”

If you are considering implementing any new technology into your farm, don’t forget to call Stearns Electric Association. The Cooperative is committed to providing reliable electric service and innovative energy solutions for our members. In order to help our commercial, industrial and agricultural (CI & A) members save money and use energy more wisely, we provide an extensive rebate program in partnership with our wholesale power provider, Great River Energy.

“Our rebates and grants assist our members with the initial cost of energy efficient installations,” John Pantzke, Stearns Electric’s Business Development Representative, said. “When we connect with our members as they plan or complete their project, it’s our goal to ensure that operational changes and new equipment are as energy efficient as possible. We are also able to help determine energy and cost savings by calculating the anticipated return on investment before the project gets underway.”

Czech provided this advice for others who are looking at automated technologies or new energy solutions:

“Implementing labor-saving efficiencies is a tremendous value. Just remember, it doesn’t always replace people. It does, however, reallocate your time to do the things you want to do,” he explained.

“I’ve always enjoyed farming and evolving the farm,” he concluded. “Every time we grow another step, I have to grow too.”