FARM ENERGY AUDITS IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY, REDUCE COSTS
WHEN IT COMES TO MANAGING FARM SUSTAINABILITY OVER THE LONG TERM, SCRUTINIZING ENERGY USE CAN PROVE TO BE AN IMPORTANT MANEUVER.
Energy plays a major role in production at Z&J Farms. The family farming operation, owned by father and son Jeff and Zach Reiter, allocates around 25% of its production expenditures to energy costs.
While the Cascade, Iowa, farmers have taken steps to improve energy efficiency by investing in a high-efficiency furnace for their office, spraying foam insulation, installing radiant tube heaters in one of their shops, and putting in-floor heating in another, they know there are additional opportunities for reducing energy consumption.
“I was concerned with our rising energy bills – specifically electricity and liquid propane – and the demand caused by the aeration fans on our grain-drying system as they start and stop all at once,” says Zach Reiter.
Over a 12-month period, the grain dryer, bin aeration fans, electric motors, and exterior lighting consume 143,280 kWh of electricity and 48,007 gallons of propane. Between the two expenses, the estimated annual cost to harvest approximately 350,000 bushels of grain is nearly $67,000.
“We also needed more volume to go through the dryer faster because there were many days our wet bin was full and our dryer was still drying, which meant we couldn’t harvest any more crop,” Reiter says.
Because they grow specialty corn, the pair was looking to improve grain quality, as well. The specialty corn requires drying at a very low temperature to prevent kernel damage. A high volume of air is needed to maintain that low temperature. However, this wasn’t possible with the Reiters’ GSI 1126 continuous-flow dryer.
$1.5 million: Amount in dollars funded in 2015 by Iowa NRCS EQIP toward on-farm energy initiatives.
While their current system has served them well for seven years, they knew it was time for an upgrade.
“A mixed-flow dryer does a more even job of drying than the continuous-flow dryer we currently have,” Reiter explains. “Based on calculations and in talking with customers who have the Neco 24330 we were considering, we would see about a 25% savings in liquid propane alone.”
Although upgrading makes sense, a price tag of around $380,000 for the entire project is a hefty one.
To try to offset the cost of the investment, the Reiters wanted to take advantage of funding available through programs like the EQIP National On-Farm Energy Initiative. The first step toward getting assistance meant an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (or AgEMP 128) had to be completed.
“This on-farm energy audit will establish a baseline and the impact certain improvements will have,” says Paul Goldsmith, Iowa EQIP coordinator.
According to the NRCS, the average cost for this analysis is $1,600, but it varies based on the operation size and type. “An individual can request financial assistance for the audit,” notes Goldsmith.
While the word audit can elicit concerns in the most well-documented operation, hiring an expert – who not only specializes in performing the on-farm energy audit but also can identify cost-sharing opportunities – is a growing trend that helps alleviate those fears.
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Farm Energy Audits Improve Energy Efficiency, Reduce Costs | Successful Farming