Press-Republican

May 26, 2013

Energy savings on the farm

Peter Hagar, Cornell Ag Connection
Press-Republican

— 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.

Lighting is often overlooked, especially in older tie-stall barns with standard light fixtures. On average, lighting is 17 percent of a dairy farm’s electric energy use. Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) can yield a savings of up to 70 percent. For example, replacing 30 100-watt incandescent bulbs with 30 30-watt CFLs has a payback period of about four months with savings of more than $600 per year. In wetter environments such as milking parlors, newer high output fluorescent fixtures offer energy efficiency, good color rendering and long life. For cold environments such as free-stall barns, high intensity discharge (HID) lights such as high pressure sodium fixtures offer high efficiency and long lamp life, but with poor color rendition.

In order to manage your energy use, you need to know where you are using it on your farm. An energy audit would provide a clear picture of what uses the most energy, what time of day that you use the most energy and where you can get the most return on investment when making changes. The New York State Energy Research & Development Agency (NYSERDA) has recently released a program opportunity notice for the Agriculture Energy Efficiency Program (AEEP).

The AEEP offers assistance to identify and implement electric and natural-gas energy efficiency measures to farms and on-farm producers. Dairy farms, orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms just to name a few, can apply for an energy audit. Once your needs are determined, NYSERDA has incentives available to help purchase the specific improvements needed.

Another resource available to farms is the EQIP On-Farm Energy Initiative program offered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. This program enables the producer to identify ways to conserve energy and provides technical and financial assistance to help implement various measures and practices identified by the on-farm energy audit.

To find out if NYSERDA’s AEEP program or the NRCS EQIP On-Farm Energy Initiative could be a good fit for your farm operation, to obtain an application or just to get more information, contact me at 561-7450 or email phh7@cornell.edu.

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450 or email Phh7@cornell.edu.