Researchers fast heading towards carbon neutral dairy farm

Scientists aiming for the world’s first carbon neutral dairy farm in West Gippsland find new ways to use excess energy the farm generates.

Agriculture Victoria’s SmartFarm at Ellinbank, in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges in West Gippsland, has been operating for more than 50 years and the innovative science undertaken during this time is behind some of the biggest shifts in the productivity and sustainability of Australia’s dairy industry.

Research Director Professor Joe Jacobs said the launch of the SmartFarm in January was recognition that farming was shifting into a new era, a technology-driven era that demanded more efficiencies and sustainability to remain competitive.

“At the SmartFarm, 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from cows burping methane, 15 per cent come from waste such as manure and urine, and 18 per cent from energy use,” Joe said.

“While we’ve reduced the amount of methane cows produce through genetics, and the types and quantity of food they eat, we’ll never completely eliminate it.

Professor amongst the paddock talking about SmartFarm in Ellinbank“So, what we’re now looking to do is introduce technologies like a biodigester to convert waste into energy and then make what’s left from that process into solid and liquid fertiliser.

“At a very simple level, we’re creating a loop where we reuse as much as possible.”

Joe said that while making the farm carbon neutral was their bigger goal, his team were also looking to include equipment used for day-to-day tasks, such as checking on the welfare of the cows and sensorising the milking plant, grain silos and the water systems, to get early warnings when things were not as they should be.

“We’re converting our fleet of 10 side-by-side vehicles to electricity which will be produced on-site,” he said.

Cow with black and white prints eating grass“We’re already using two such vehicles and we’re finding them easier and cheaper to maintain, and capable of doing everything their petrol and diesel equivalents can do.

“We have 99.8 kW of solar coupled with a 100 kWh battery that provides 40 per cent of the farm’s electricity needs. We plan to add a further 400-600 kW of solar and 200 kWh of battery storage to produce more energy than the farm needs to offset the greenhouse gases produced by the cows.

“Rather than return the excess to the grid, we’re planning to send it to the farm’s office buildings to reduce their energy costs too.”

While these are the main steps being taken to make the SmartFarm carbon neutral, farmers and service providers can also visit the site to see how these alternative energy options are working in the practical setting of a commercial farm.

“We’ll be opening the SmartFarm to show everybody in the industry what we’re doing here so they can apply what they’ve learnt to their own farm.

“We are on the cusp of huge change in agriculture. It’s very exciting to be part of it and to be able to share our knowledge and all of the new things we are learning here with the dairy industry.”

Ellinbank SmartFarm

  • 231 hectares and home to 500 dairy cows.
  • Australia’s leading dairy innovation facility.
  • Fast-tracking innovative technologies in a research environment that can be accessed by the dairy industry.
  • Becoming carbon neutral by reducing methane emissions, improving fertiliser and manure management, and generating electricity through solar, wind, hydro and bio-digestion.

Read more about Agriculture Victoria’s SmartFarms at