It's Your Business

Harvesting Efficiency

Every dairy cow carries an energy price tag. Farmers pump water — and $2.6 billion in energy dollars — to boost crops.

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 efficiency.

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 drain resources.

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 electricity.


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.

Light lessons

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 incandscents:


Halogen incandescents use 25 percent less energy and last three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.


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 CFLs.


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 savings.



Harsh surroundings

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 loads.

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 big-box store.

Seeds of change

For regional or crop-specific efficiency methods, use the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service energy calculators, Assess how much energy a farm needs for animal housing, irrigation, and tillage and discover ways to cut costs. Dairy farmers may also visit

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 > 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 > Programs > Financial Assistance > Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

By Megan McKoy-Noe, Certified Coopera­tive Communicator, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association



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