August 15, 2017

California Farmer Develops First Electric Feed Truck

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

As the fog lifts on his Marin County organic dairy farm, Albert Straus is feeding his nearly 300 cows. His feed truck looks just like any truck you’d see on a modern dairy. However, this truck isn’t like most feed trucks in the U.S. Straus’ is powered by electricity. He begin working on the electric truck eight years ago and today, it’s the first feed truck in the U.S. to be powered by electricity.

Straus Dairy Farm was established in 1941 by Albert's father. After attending college, Straus joined the business. After several years back on the farm he transitioned it to certified organic and started a creamery, and in 1994 it became the first 100% certified organic creamery in the U.S.

"I've always tried to make a model of an organic dairy farm that is sustainable for the environment," he says.  “Over the decades I've done this by implementing a methane digester in 2004, to produce all of our energy and most of our hot water, in addition to implementing a carbon farm plan for our dairy."

Straus says the idea to build the feed truck came from a desire to close the loop on the farm’s renewable energy practices.

“The idea is that the cows are powering this truck (through the methane digester) that feeds them,” he says. “So it's closing the loop.”

It's took more than six years for electric vehicle technology to advance and reach a point where it was affordable for Straus to build the truck. Once technology caught up to Straus’ idea, it only took him a little over two years to put the truck together. According to Straus, one of the hardest parts was figuring out how to make an electric truck go slow enough for feeding the cows.

"We had to put two different transmissions in it, so we can drive it slow enough to feed the cows and drive it fast enough around other areas of the 500-acre farm, ," he says.

Straus used the batteries out of Nissan Leaf cars that he bought from a local electric vehicle company to run the motor. Piecing the technology together to run the truck took the most time, but it wasn’t impossible.

“I like to innovate,” Straus says. “I like to see how I can solve problems.”

Once the truck was running it was time to integrate the feed wagon, including the scales and computer system. Today it measures, mixes and delivers feed just like a diesel-powered truck without the carbon emissions or the fuel costs.

Straus isn’t stopping at the feed truck, he has other plans in the works to make his dairy the most environmentally sustainable it can be. 

“We’ve purchased a refrigerated truck, and we are getting that converted,” he says. “I’m looking at doing a full-scale loader for the next phase.”