Blazing New Trails for Dairy Profitability
By: Brian Yockel
The roots of the dairy industry run deep for Avolta Biogas Development Manager, Brian Yockel’s family. Yockel’s mother grew up on a family dairy farm in upstate New York, that is still owned and operated by the family.
Yockel has fond memories of visiting for long stays in the summertime, a time he credits with instilling a passion for agriculture.
“I grew up working on the farm in the summertime and then when I got into high school and could be away for full summers, I went to work on my uncle’s farm,” he says. “My plan was to be involved in the dairy industry as a large animal veterinarian, so I shadowed a few vets over the summers and decided to go to Virginia Tech, where I studied Dairy Science.”
With an undergrad degree in Dairy Science, completed by a pre-vet option, Yockel says he realized that he wasn’t as sure about vet school as he had been four years prior and decided to press pause on his application to the school of veterinary medicine. That pause, and good connections within the Virginia Tech ag department, set the course for a career that continues to help dairy farmers today in a much different capacity than veterinary medicine.
“I interned for a grazing dairy in New Zealand for a full year and about the time I was looking at coming back to the U.S., I learned that one of the farms I had interned with while doing my undergrad was trying to lease a dairy in Georgia,” Yockel says. “I made the move from New Zealand to Georgia, started with 120 cows, and grew the herd for the next eight years to 1000 cows, where we added barns and maxed out the parlor.”
That baptism by fire, learning to manage not only the facilities and herd but the employees, state agencies, and other facets of the dairy in his early twenties, are the cornerstones to which Yockel attributes his management foundation. The experience also became the paradigm that has driven Yockel’s career ambition to continually pursue growth, expansion, and new opportunity.
I ended up meeting Gov, Gov, and Patrick, the owners of Nacelle Solutions and Avolta, as they were looking for project opportunities in the Southeast., and I’ll add that I had plenty of similar conversations over the years with different groups coming to the dairy and making promises for what they could do for us by bringing these other nutrients onto the farm and providing more fertilizer, but they didn’t understand our day-to-day operations – they weren’t in-tune with the needs of the dairy industry. But when I heard how Nacelle Solutions and Avolta got started…in the oil and gas industry identifying problems with their customers and providing more efficient systems and then applying that same logic with dairy farmers…that was something I gravitated toward,” Yockel says.
The rest, as they say, is history and Yockel quickly joined forces with the Avolta team, beginning his role in October of 2021, where he put his knowledge and passion to work to bring what he knew about how dairies operate and what he learned about renewable natural gas (RNG) collection into focus for both Avolta and the dairies they work with.
Today, Yockel spends his days scouting and assisting in finding dairy farms that match Avolta’s requirements and discussing with farmers the value that comes from partnering with Avolta. He notes the opportunity to help farmers as his greatest motivation to join the Avolta team, and shares that his role allows him to provide confidence in a new and unknown space for many dairy farmers.
“I know a lot of farmers and producers are unsure of the space and everything that goes along with it. They don’t know who to trust and, for the most part, they are just looking for transparency in talking through these technologies and projects, and how they affect their operations,” Yockel says. “That’s why I love getting on the farm to have the initial conversation and explain the services and value we provide and how our company partners with every farm to fit its needs and ours. These aren’t short-term partnerships, being able to share how the company was built and what the plan looks like for growth and future development, based on the renewable energy space, is a conversation that resonates with progressive dairy farmers because I think we all have the same goals,” Yockel says.
To stay up-to-speed on what’s happening on the farm, Yockel is part of a mastermind group of sorts that focuses on peer-to-peer networking and learning to share and disseminate new ideas and information.
The Young Dairy Leaders Group began in 2014 and is comprised of owners and high-level managers for some of the largest dairy farms in the U.S. The group gets together at least once per year at a pre-determined dairy that is exploring a new technology or management practice. The group spends between two and three days onsite, engaging in peer discussion, touring, and immersing themselves in the inner workings of the topics at hand.
“Being able to collaborate with some of the best producers in the country is invaluable” he adds. “Everyone learns from one another and it’s a great opportunity for all of us to network and stay connected, which is so important in any industry.”