Harvesting Efficiency

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates farmers could save $88 million annually by investing in efficient motors and lighting. How can Iowa 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 lightbulbs 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 fuorescent 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.

Some of the more efficient forms of lighting equipment can qualify for a rebate from Access Energy Cooperative.

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 Incentives Program.

Dairy Farms

Better dairy pumps, compressors, and lighting can save 10–35% of a dairy farm’s energy costs.

  • UPDATE PUMPS: Install a variable-speed drive (VSD) for your vacuum pumps to maintain a constant vacuum level and provide a quieter work environment.
  • COMPRESS CONSISTENTLY: Select efficient scroll or digitally controlled compressors for refrigeration. They last longer than other compressors and provide consistent cooling.
  • PLATE COOLER: Use a well water plate cooler with a VSD on milk transfer pumps. This produces a steady flow of milk through the plate cooler, cuts costs associated with bulk tank compressors and maintains milk quality.
  • HEAT RECOVERY: Install compressor heat recovery to reduce water heating energy requirements. Heat removed from milk that is usually released back into the air by condenser fans can be reused to heat water. This is one of the most cost-effective purchases a dairy farmer can make.

Poultry Farms

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 13% of a poultry farm’s production expenses stem from energy costs.

  • SEAL AIR LEAKS: Air flowing in and out of poultry houses leads to higher heating costs, litter caking, lower feed intake, lower feed conversion efficiencies, and smaller birds.
  • RADIANT HEAT: When installed and managed properly, radiant heaters use between 15–30% less fuel than forced hot air heaters and pancake brooders.
  • INSULATE: Make sure you have proper insulation levels and coverage. Insulation helps regulate the temperature, reducing the need for supplemental heating and cooling.
  • CONTROL USE: Implement electronic controls for lighting and interior conditions such as temperature and humidity. Controllers can coordinate heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting systems so they work in an integrated fashion.

Crop Farms

Delivering water to crops costs $2.6 billion energy dollars every year, according to the U.S. Department of Ag. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service reports 25% of that energy was wasted due to poor irrigation pump and motor efficiency.

Here are a few ways to start saving today:

  • MAINTAIN: Maintain equipment and facilities following manufacturers’ recommendations for proper use and maintenance.
  • TURN OFF WASTE: Turn off equipment when not in use or needed. Educate employees on the importance of not running all equipment at the same time.
  • MOTOR SAVINGS: Use National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Premium Efficient electric motors. These highly efficient products meet the needs and applications of the farmer and manufacturers based on a consensus definition of “premium efficiency.” Learn more at www.motorsmatter.org.
  • WATCH RATINGS: Always consider energy consumption ratings when replacing or installing new equipment, typically the lowest cost equipment is the least energy efficient.
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