Fepro Farms, owned by Paul, Fritz, Michael and Elias Klaesi, was an early adopter of on-farm biogas in Canada and currently has a well operating 500 kW biogas facility running on 15000 tonnes per year of dairy manure, corn silage and off-farm material. Fepro Farms is located near Cobden, Ontario.
Originally from Switzerland, the brothers and their families moved to Canada in 1990. In Switzerland they had farmed together and had a small biogas system that produced gas for heating. The inspiration to incorporate a digester into their diary operations in Canada came from their experience with an on-farm biogas system in the late 1980’s in Switzerland. Both Paul and Fritz have technical backgrounds and they knew first-hand the benefits of digesting the dairy manure to produce energy for their own use.
In 2001, after establishing their farm in Cobden, the Klaesi brothers decided to undertake constructing a biogas facility in Canada. In 2002 they built a small 50 kW system with a 500 cubic meter digester that was the site of their early research trials in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Rural and Food Affairs (OMAFRA) and the University of Guelph. For the next 5 years the Klaesi brothers generously opened up their operation to enable research into pathogen destruction, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, feeding off-farm materials, and digester optimization. This research paved the way for off-farm materials to be accepted in agricultural biogas facilities.
In 2007, the brothers began to expand the digester when they received a Certificate of Approval from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and signed a 500 kW Renewable Energy Standard Offer (RESOP) contract with the Ontario Power Authority.
During the expansion Paul Klaesi and about five other farmers in eastern Ontario formed Agri-Energy Producer’s Association of Ontario (APAO), the precursor to the Canadian Biogas Association. “APAO was created because we felt we needed to stand together, especially towards promoting the biogas industry as a whole. We wanted to support farmers with biogas development challenges such as Ministry of Environment regulation requirements.” Their main goals when they started was to have a unified front for receiving off-farm materials to ensure that all farms are receiving an equal tipping fee. The APAO also acted as a liaison with OMAFRA to get funding for biogas projects beginning in 2007 for the first 10 on-farm digesters built.
Reflecting on their progress, Paul shares that while there were a number of challenges, they could be overcome with collaboration and planning. For example, where off-farm material is not reliable, corn silage can be used as a feedstock for the digester adding a buffer of fiber that helps to stabilize the system and provide consistency. For farmers looking to build in Ontario today, Paul advises them to consider smaller systems for load displacement if economically feasible in the absence of programs such as Feed-in-Tariff. He encourages the government to be supportive and recognize the benefit of these smaller systems.
In March 2018, Paul and Fritz Klaesi received the inaugural Canadian Biogas Industry Award for Biogas Champion honouring their dedication as pioneers in the biogas industry. Fepro Farms continues to be a member of the Canadian Biogas Association for the same reasons Paul started the APAO in 2008. Paul shares “The industry needs to stand together to get the government and agencies to work with the famers in the specific area of biogas.” He feels that the CBA has really helped to put biogas more into the forefront of thinking amongst farmers and has done a good job of carrying the torch.