The Chester County Commissioners and the Agricultural Development Council recently presented dairy farmers Duane and Marilyn Hershey of Ar-Joy Farms in Cochranville the 2018 Farmers of the Year Award, while celebrating National Farmer’s Day and the 30th year of the county’s agricultural award program.
The Hersheys were honored for the installation of cutting-edge methane digester technology on their farm, as well as for their strong advocacy work on behalf of the dairy industry both locally and nationwide.
“Duane and Marilyn Hershey embody the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that the county’s agricultural community is known for,” said Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone, and Terence Farrell. “Agriculture is Chester County’s leading industry, and our farmers work very hard to feed us and supply us with many materials that we need as a county, a state, and a nation.
“After visiting the dairy operation at Ar-Joy Farms, we can see why Duane and Marilyn Hershey were selected as this year’s award recipients. Their diligence and creativity in generating their own energy to run the farm is a great example of the way that many of our farms work to become sustainable and profitable.”
Although methane digesters are a more common sight on farms throughout Europe, the Hersheys’ digester is one of a handful in Pennsylvania.
“It took years of building relationships with PECO, potential funders at the state level, and our neighbors to make it happen,” said Marilyn Hershey.
The Hersheys use the digester to convert 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.
This additional income is especially important because it helps them weather challenging business conditions like the ones currently facing the dairy industry. The digester also produces additional byproducts, including sterile bedding material for their cows and an odorless liquid fertilizer, which is spread onto their crop fields.
In addition to running the 800-cow milking operation and raising crops on approximately 550 acres, the Hersheys operate their own milk hauling company in partnership with fellow dairy farmers Walt and Ellen Moore of Walmoore Holsteins. This venture has been working out well for both farms for more than 10 years.
Also, the Commissioners and the Ag Council presented the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award to Charles “Charlie” Graydus, a beloved agricultural mechanics teacher and mentor at Octorara High School.
Graydus and his wife Carla also raise a small herd of Black Angus beef cattle and champion pumpkins at Hidden Well Farm in Elverson.