Every dairy cow carries an energy price tag.
Farmers pump water — and $2.6 billion in energy dollars — to boost
At the end of the day, energy, both direct and
indirect, accounts for 13 percent of the average farmer’s production
expenses. To enhance their bottom lines, more farmers are turning to energy
Electricity powers a farm’s heating (water, space, heat
lamps), pumping (irrigation, water wells, manure lagoons), refrigeration,
ventilation, lighting, and fans (drying grains, aeration). Material handling
— such as feed augers, manure conveyors, milking, and egg conveyors — also
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy
estimates farmers could save $88 million annually by investing in efficient
motors and lighting. How can Virginia farmers reap efficiency benefits?
EnSave, a national agricultural energy efficiency firm,
provides a pyramid of steps farmers can take to cut down energy use. The
greatest savings come from deploying more efficient equipment, although
behavioral changes and a simple analysis of how energy is consumed can
result in significant savings, too.
Equipped to save
Each farm — dairy,poultry, beef, hog, or crop — offers opportunities for efficiency
improvements. For example:
Clean equipment: Removing dust, soot,
and debris from equipment will allow it to do more work with
less effort, extending its life and reducing energy use.
Inspect regularly: Equipment should be
checked regularly. Replace parts that are showing excessive
wear before they break and cause irreparable damage.
Plug leaks: Be it a pinprick hole in a
hose or a drafty barn, leaks waste money, fuel, and
Remove clutter: Hoses should be
regularly flushed to clear debris. Ensure fan and motor
intakes and exhausts remain clutter-free for maximum
circulation and efficiency.
After tuning up equipment, check lights. Light work
areas, not entire buildings. Use daylight when possible. Install dimmable
ballasts to control light levels.
The type of light used makes a difference. Although
useful as a heat source in limited situations (to keep water pumps from
freezing in winter, for example), incandescent light bulbs only convert 10
percent of the energy used into light. The rest of the energy is given off
as heat. Consider these energy-saving lighting options, as compared to
Halogen incandescents use 25 percent
less energy and last three times longer than traditional
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use 75
percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.
LEDs use between 75 percent and 80
percent less energy and last up to
25 times longer.
Cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs)
last up to 25 times longer and offer the same efficiency as
T-8 and T-5 flourescent lights with
electronic ballasts generate less noise and produce more
light per watt. These bulbs also offer better color
rendering, minimal flickering, cooler operation, and energy
Farm equipment must survive in a rough environment.
Before buying new equipment or lighting, make sure the gear can survive
fluctuating temperatures, wet locations, long hours of operation, and large
Confirm by manufacturer’s specifications that the unit
is built for its intended environment, and make sure the way you plan to use
it will not void the warranty.
Look for knowledgeable suppliers and installers
familiar with the local climate and your farm’s needs. Typically, farms need
more rugged devices than what’s available at a low cost from a retail or
Seeds of change
For regional or crop-specific efficiency methods, use
the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service energy calculators,
energytools.sc.egov.usda.gov. Assess how much energy a farm needs for animal
housing, irrigation, and tillage and discover ways to cut costs. Dairy
farmers may also visit www.usdairy.com/saveenergy.
Funding for efficiency upgrades is available through
the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Since 2008, REAP has funded
more than 6,800 renewable energy and energy efficiency grants and loan
guarantees as well as 600 farm energy audits. Get details at
www.rurdev.usda.gov > Energy>
Rural Energy for America Program.
Farmers can also apply for financial and technical help
through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a program from
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. EQIP supports energy
initiatives to manage and reduce agricultural energy needs. Learn more at
www.nrcs.usda.gov > Programs > Financial Assistance > Environmental Quality
By Megan McKoy-Noe, Certified Cooperative
Communicator, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association