Making energy use on the farm more efficient
Farms are an integral part of the American and global economy — each of our country’s agricultural producers feeds about 155 people worldwide. To help maintain that level of production in the face of rising costs for fuel, fertilizer, seed and equipment, farmers can make operations more energy efficient.
Energy audits offer a methodical approach to energy efficiency. A professional evaluates a farm’s facilities and recommends improvements that will save energy and money. Recommendations could range from low- or no-cost fixes to projects requiring more time and investment.
When embarking on a farm energy audit, check with your local electric cooperative first. Cooperative Extension through N.C. State University (ces.ncsu.edu) also can introduce you to professional energy audits.
Turning down or completely shutting off lights and “energy hogs” like window air-conditioners is the lowest-cost energy efficiency solution that farmers can try. Photo- and motion sensors, timers or programmable thermostats help.
Regular cleaning and maintenance can prevent future problems and keep equipment like fans, light fixtures and belts running at top efficiency. Tune-ups on seasonal items, including irrigation equipment, well pumps and crop-drying systems, at the start and end of each use cycle keeps parts running properly and efficiently.
Irrigation consumes a great amount of electricity; pumping water can account for up to 30 percent of a farm’s total energy use. Watering costs U.S. farmers $2.6 billion every year. Rebuilding existing pump motors will increase efficiency, but consider upgrading to a premium-efficiency model if the cost to rebuild is more than 65 percent of the replacement cost. This entails a larger upfront investment, but a new premium-efficiency motor may drive a faster payback due to energy savings and longer lifespan.
The cost of electricity to operate an old, inefficient motor far exceeds its original price tag. Keep in mind that some motors draw a larger start-up current, so make sure your electrical system can handle the new motor before you buy.
Variable-speed drives on pumps also cut energy, as can computer-controlled scheduling tools.
Lighting is another area to target. Transitioning from traditional lighting systems to LEDs cuts down both on energy use and maintenance costs. LEDs can provide more directed lighting; so less light is wasted. They are 80 percent more efficient than traditional incandescents and more durable than compact fluorescent lamps. Farms are harsh environments for lighting; some LED models are resistant to water and gaseous emissions. As with premium-efficiency motors for irrigation pumps, LEDs require a larger investment initially, but they recoup costs by needing fewer replacements and using less electricity.
Negotiating for a free trial of a product is also worth a shot. A salesman who stands by his or her product may be willing to give you a free trial.
To get started, call your electric cooperative and ask about farm efficiency programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosts an online portal for a variety of farm efficiency resources, from calculators that can help save energy, fuel, or fossil-fuel-based fertilizers to specialized publications. Visit afsic.nal.usda.gov/farm-energy-options/farm-energy-efficiency