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May 26, 2013

Energy savings on the farm

As the weather heats up and we all prepare for hotter conditions, our thoughts turn to keeping cool during our all-too-short summer season.

Keeping cool during hot summer nights is much easier when proper insulation is installed, cracks are sealed and fans or air conditioners are properly maintained. Many of these same ideas can be utilized on a farm to enhance energy efficiency and lower expenses related to energy use. At the same time, reducing energy usage will also reduce power-generation emissions and help protect our environment.

At a recent meeting that I attended, a major topic of discussion was farm energy management and conservation. Direct uses of energy on the farm would be the electricity used for cooling, fans, feed conveyers and lighting, as well as fuel used for tillage, planting and harvesting. Indirect energy used would be energy consumed during the manufacturing of fertilizer, pesticides and machinery used on the farm. Making energy-conservation choices on the farm is often very similar to those made for the home, except that while heating is the biggest user of energy in the home, most barns are unheated. With animal comfort a major priority, cooling fans are one of the most constant energy users in the summer.

On a dairy farm, the biggest users are the electric motors used to drive everything from fans to milk vacuum pumps. Milk cooling and ventilation make up about 50 percent of a dairy farm’s electrical usage and often offer opportunities for significant energy savings. Since heating and cooling are generally the biggest energy consumers, using the heat from the milk to preheat the hot water as well as the heat generated by the milk coolers, water heating efficiency and cost savings can be significant. The most common energy-conservation measures for dairy farms would include milk pre-coolers, refrigeration heat recovery, variable speed vacuum pumps and more efficient lighting.

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