Energy costs average about 10 percent of a farm’s budget – often wiping out profit margins. So looking for ways to be more energy efficient makes a lot of sense.
Energy efficiency isn’t just for your farmhouse, though that’s a good place to start.
Changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, adding insulation and weather stripping and installing storm windows and doors are far more cost effective than expensive wind turbines and solar panels.
One of the most important financial resources available for farm energy efficiency is your rural electric cooperative. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a $100,000 grant through its Rural Energy for America Program to Associated Electric Cooperative. The funds should cover nearly 90 audits for farms or rural small businesses through Dec. 31, 2011.
The program provides audits for small businesses and farms that use energy-consuming equipment and processes that have potential for energy-efficiency savings. The audits cost $1,250 of which 75 percent of the cost is covered by the grant. Eligible co-op members must derive at least 50 percent of their gross income from an agricultural business and use under 60,000 kilowatt hours monthly.
Once the audit is performed, the certified auditor recommends improvements in processes and equipment to achieve greater efficiency. They also can help farmers qualify for loans and grants through the University of Missouri and the state to pay for the recommended changes.
If $312.50 isn’t in your 2011 budget for an audit, consider these energy tips:
Motors – Dairy farmers use a lot of pumps, so upgrading to the most efficient ones you can afford makes sense. If you’re planning a major upgrade, check into refrigeration heat recovery units, scroll compressors, plate/pre-coolers and variable speed milk pumps.
Motors in pumps, fans, blowers and compressors can account for 18 percent of energy uses on farms. To shave costs if you irrigate, keep pumps clean, serviced and well tuned; make sure connections are tight and develop an irrigation scheduling method that efficiently times watering can shave costs.
Farm equipment and fuel – Machinery, particularly tractors, for tilling, using a forklift, combining and baling hay represents about 12 percent of a farm’s energy use. Keeping equipment well-maintained will improve its efficiency. To reduce fuel costs, cut the number of trips to town in heavy-duty trucks, practice no-till planting, reduce the depth of tillage and trips across the field, custom apply herbicides and fertilizers, use post-emergence herbicides for grass and weed control, avoid unnecessary use of cultivators and match equipment to size of tractor (smaller is generally more efficient). Converting all vehicles to diesel and replacing old diesel engines with new ones also will save on fuel costs.
Running your tractor at the proper RPM can save fuel as well. For example, if you are hauling hay bales or pulling a rake, reduce the engine RPM by gearing up and throttling down.


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