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Forum: Less energy, more profits

By Staff | Jan 1, 2010

David Stineman, energy solutions manager for Consumers Energy, talks to a group of producers last Wednesday during a Farm Energy Check-Up program informational meeting held in Fort Dodge.

Input costs for producers continue to rise and many are looking for ways to decrease those bills while increasing profits.

Energy and fuel costs are continually on the rise. Iowa State University Extension has partnered with Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Consumers Energy on a farm energy awareness program intended to help producers cut these costs and build awareness of their operations’ energy needs.

The program is called Farm Energy Check-up.

Statewide meetings have been held to make producers more aware of the new energy checkup program.

At last Wednesday’s event in Fort Dodge, Mark Hanna, ISU Extension ag engineer, explained to the group the major energy source categories used by producers in the state and the potential energy savings in both crop and livestock operations.

According to Hanna, major energy sources include diesel/gas, electricity, natural gas and propane with diesel being the most prominent energy source used by agricultural producers in the state.

Electricity, he said, is also a main energy source mostly used in livestock operations for running lights and ventilation systems.

Propane, although not the most prominent energy source, nonetheless is used widely in agriculture as not only a grain-drying source, but in livestock operations, as well.

Case studies on whole-farm energy audits were conducted last year which Hanna said were integral in getting the Farm Energy Check-up program up and running.

Case No. 1 included a swine farm with 15,000 pigs annually and 2,350 acres of cropland.

In that particular study 242,000 kilowatt hours of electricity were used, plus 9,600 gallons of propane and 10,200 gallons of diesel.

After the study was completed, a total cost of $13,000 of annual savings potential was presented to the producer.

These suggestions included upgrading the lighting and ventilation fans in the pig buildings; make full use of the manure, consider reducing tillage on corn acres as well as considering low temperature grain drying.

“There’s savings with low temperature drying, but it does require more management, however,” said Hanna.

Case No. 2 was performed at a turkey farm of 500,000-plus birds and 500 acres of corn.

That year, the farm used 222,000 kwh of electricity, plus 5,500 gallons of propane and 9,400 gallons of diesel.

After the whole-farm audit, Hanna said there was an estimated savings potential to the farm of $34,000.

Solutions included insulating buildings, upgrading lights and ventilation systems, low temperature grain drying and reduction of tillage and making full use of the manure.

Case No. 3 was conducted at a cow/calf operation that also included 2,600 acres, with 1,500 acres under row crops. A total of 25,000 kwh of electricity was used, as well as 2,100 gallons of propane and 6,700 gallons of diesel.

The estimated annual savings potential for this farm was $5,400 and the ideas to consider were similar to the previous studies, but included introducing low-energy stock waterers to the operation, plus re-evaluating their nitrogen use.

“Common energy issues in these case studies were decisions on the amount of tillage, ventilation and nitrogen use, which all have major effects on energy, and, frankly, are major decision, for all folks out there,” said Hanna.

Other ways to improve energy usage on the farm, Hanna said, is just the simple maintenance on tractors.

Fluid and filter changes, proper ballast and tire inflation on tractors, he said, could result in some major fuel savings.

David Stineman, energy solutions manager for Consumers Energy, told the group just how the Farm Energy Check-up program works and what it takes for producers to get involved.

Consumers Energy, located in Marshalltown, will be performing the on-farm energy audits whereas Iowa State University Extension, he said, will be in charge of the educational part of the program.

Some educational material, Hanna said, is already available through the online store on ISU Extension’s Web site.

Stineman said there are different levels of on-farm audits available. These include:

  • Whole-farm audit, which would identify energy conservation and efficiency improvements for the whole farm.
  • Enterprise audits that are designed to focus on single enterprise of the farm operation, which may include grain drying, field crop production or livestock
  • Specific technology audits, which evaluate a specific technology to identify potential improvements in areas that may include lighting, variable speed drives, space heating, vacuum pumps or dairy pre-coolers.

Agricultural producers with 50 percent or greater of their gross income derived from farm operations qualify for audit assistance of up to $500 from Consumers Energy, when a whole farm energy audit has been requested.

Stineman said other sponsors such as Farm Bureau, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives and Mid-American Energy will also be offering some help with the costs of the audits.

For those producers interested having an energy audit of their operations can visit www.farmenergycheckup.com where they can fill out a pre-audit assessment form. They can also call Consumers Energy at (800) 696-6552 or call Stineman at (641) 754-1645.

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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