Stanton Farms: Building on Positive Energy
Stanton Farms, a dairy farm in Ilderton, Ontario, strives to be on the cutting edge of sustainability, which often means working through the challenges of being ahead of its time. Because of this trailblazing work, the Stantons have been named 2023 recipients of Alltech Canada’s Planet of Plenty™ award.
“Alltech is globally respected and a leader in its field,” Jeff Stanton said during a recent presentation at the Alltech ONE World Tour stop in Calgary. “To receive this recognition is a great honor.”
Past, present and future
The farm, which milks 1,000 Holstein dairy cows three times a day, is a family operation in every sense of the word. Laurie and Sandra Stanton run it with the help of the next two generations.
Their two eldest sons, Jeff and Jim, look after the day-to-day operations and the genetics division, while younger son, Greg, looks after the crops and daughter, Amy, works with the calves. Jim’s wife, Nicole, helps run the office.
As is the case with so many farms, even the next generation is in on the operation. Laurie and Sandra’s grandkids help around the farm when they are not in school.
Stanton Farms can trace its roots back to the Woodstock, Ontario area, where Laurie’s father and uncle started an operation. It was eventually sold when the province built a major highway that cut right through the farm. Laurie’s grandfather then reestablished the farm in London, Ontario, where it remained until the 2006 move to Ilderton.
Though the farm has been established for decades, the Stanton family doesn’t spend their time looking back. Instead, they are looking toward the future of the ag sector, always seeking out and implementing leading-edge solutions.
Ahead of its time
About 17 years ago, the Stanton family had this idea about building a biodigester and feeding electricity and renewable natural gas into the grid. They put together a proposal and took it to the energy industry.
The people they approached didn’t have an appetite for it then, but that didn’t deter the Stantons.
Describing this process, Jeff Stanton said that regulations needed to be overcome, which meant solutions needed to be created — so they got to work on overcoming those obstacles.
The farm’s first biodigester was built in 2007, shortly after the family moved to Ilderton. It only operated for a few years before being shut down. The Stantons took what they learned from their first attempt at sustainable energy and moved forward undaunted.
In 2018, they opened the next one.
“It runs on manure and off-farm organics, mostly from the pre-consumer food industry,” Jeff said.
In 2022, the farm flipped the switch on its second biodigester, a renewable natural gas (RNG) facility that utilizes organic waste from the farm and the local community as well, diverting it from the landfill.
“We’ve taken a lot of off-farm waste to add in with our manure to create the power,” Jeff said.
Water is also treated as a valuable resource at Stanton Farms. It is reused as many times as possible, in all parts of the operation, before being put into the lagoon.
Community-minded sustainability efforts
The Stantons believe that part of being truly sustainable is having a positive effect on the community around them, a goal they are always striving to improve on.
The family’s move from London to Ilderton in 2006 came about when they realized they had outgrown their location.
“We've come from somewhere where we had odor issues, we had traffic, we had everything to deal with, being right inside a fairly large city,” Jeff said.
They did more than make a geographical change; they also made a social change by pledging to be better community members in their new home.
“We wanted to be seen as a positive in the community, a leader in environmental issues, and to minimize our impact on our neighbors so we could avoid those issues going forward,” Jeff said.
They have certainly accomplished that goal.
Gas from their first biodigester is used to power three 250-kW generators, which create electricity, all of which is sent to the power grid. Not to be outdone, their second biodigester pumps out three million cubic meters of RNG into Ontario’s grid, providing heat for 1,300 homes.
Experts in genetics
The Stantons are also heavily involved with genetics, marketing embryos domestically and internationally, and they are on the leading edge regarding artificial insemination (AI). Their company, Stanton Genetics, has its own AI, Bullstud, which Jeff said is a relatively new practice.
“We are just starting out, so it’s still a smaller venture, with a heavy focus on polled genetics and good cow families,” he said.
Jeff added that Stanton Farms has some of the highest-genomic-tested lifetime performance index (LPI) and genomic total performance index (GTPI) polled bulls in the market. LPI and GTPI are used by the dairy industries in Canada and the U.S., respectively, to identify superior Holstein cattle based on high production, sound conformation, and desirable health and fertility.
Stanton Farms is taking full advantage of these high marks.
“We market semen around the world,” Jeff points out, “and through some distributors in Canada as well.”
Keeping the momentum going
If all this weren’t enough, the Stantons are also currently working with a few universities to find new innovations to implement on the farm.
There’s a lot of positive energy around Stanton Farms because of the work that has gone into the operation, and they are doing everything possible to keep that momentum going.
They hope the energy they have created will continue to get people excited not only about what Stanton Farms is doing, but about what agriculture and food production is capable of as these sectors move forward.