November 28, 2010

Saving energy on the farm

As the weather cools down and we all prepare for winter, our thoughts turn to closing up the storm windows, insulating and sealing drafty cracks around the house.

Keeping the house warm during a frigid winter night is much easier when proper insulation is installed, cracks are sealed and the heating system is 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 greenhouse-gas emissions and help protect our environment.

At a recent conference 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.

On a dairy farm, the biggest users are the 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 and 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 tiestall 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.

Another energy-saving opportunity at this time of the year is the heated livestock tub. Since most heat is lost from the water surface, heated water fountains should be carefully sized to the number of cattle using them and the thermostat should be set no higher than 40 to 45 degrees to avoid constantly heating groundwater.

Consider energy-free water fountains, which are highly insulated and are usually covered to reduce heat loss. With enough use, the latent heat in groundwater is enough to prevent freezing if the fountain is carefully sized. Outdoor water tubs can be insulated on the sides and partially covered to reduce the need for winter heating. Putting the tub heater on a timer can also save a considerable amount of electricity.

In order to manage your energy use, you need to know where you're 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) offers numerous programs that provide energy audits and feasibility studies to identify cost-effective efficiency improvements that will lower energy bills and increase productivity. Once your needs are determined, NYSERDA has incentives available to help purchase the specific improvements needed. For more information on what NYSERDA program may be appropriate to your situation, contact me at 561-7450 or email

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22 No. 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Phone 561-7450, fax 561-0183 or e-mail

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