It's Your Business

Sowing Savings

Energy efficiency offers new harvest for farmers


by Megan McKoy, Contributing Writer


To get the biggest bang for their electricity dollar, more and more farmers are turning to energy efficiency to boost their bottom line and productivity.

Electricity on the farm powers heating (water, space, heat lamps), pumping (irrigation, water wells, manure lagoons), refrigeration, ventilation, lighting, fans (drying grains, aeration), and materials handling feed augers, manure conveyors, milking, and egg conveyors. In the area of motors and lighting alone, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates farmers could save $88 million annually by implementing cutting-edge efficiency measures using available technology.

EnSave, a Vermont-based farm energy audit group, has created a pyramid revealing steps agricultural operations can take to cut down on energy use, arranged by cost and benefits of improvements.

First, farmers should analyze energy use. This may reveal opportunities to save on electric use and in some cases could lead to increased productivity. Next, farmers should try energy conservation changing behaviors and simply using less energy daily. After this, the greatest savings may be achieved through energy efficiency working smarter and saving money by using more efficient equipment.

Each farm from dairy and poultry to general agriculture provides different opportunities for efficiency upgrades, varying by region and crop. However, regular equipment maintenance provides universal benefits.  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 electricity. By plugging the leaks, savings can be considerable.


Remove clutter: Hoses should be regularly flushed to clear them of debris. Ensure fan and motor intakes and exhausts remain clutter-free for maximum circulation and efficiency.


Lighting presents another efficiency touchpoint. Light work areas, not entire buildings, and use daylight when possible. Installing dimmable ballasts can also help control light levels.

Types of lights used make a difference. Incandescent lightbulbs typically convert only 10 percent of the energy used into light. There are many other options available: 

    Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) deliver the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs, but use only a quarter of the electricity. Installing CFLs may cost a little more initially, but they can last up to 10 times longer.

    Cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) can last up to 25 times longer and have around the same efficiency as CFLs.

    T-8 and T-5 lights with electronic ballasts generate less noise, produce more light per watt, offer better color rendering, minimal flickering, and cooler operation, and provide electric cost savings.

For more regional and crop-specific options, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service provides farm energy calculators. From animal housing to irrigation estimates, the calculators assess how much energy your farm currently uses and provide insights on how to cut your costs. Learn more at

Sources: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, EnSave, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service


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