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Energy savings to bank on

Producers are always on the lookout for ways to save on their bottom line. But when it comes to energy costs, many overlook savings under the radar.

“When farmers think energy efficiency, they often think of fuel, feed, and field,” says Jennifer Brinker, GDS Associates and energy consultant for Wisconsin Focus on Energy, an energy conservation and renewable energy program. But she says the key to achieving efficiency may be found in the farm utility bill.

Brinker often helps farmers see the light. In fact, new lighting technologies can cut operating and maintenance costs by up to 75% and can also offer better light quality. She advises replacing older metal halides and mercury vapor lights in high-bay buildings with pulse-start metal halides or linear T-8 fluorescents.

“Induction lights cost more up front, but they last five times as long as other high-bay lighting options,” she says.

In low-bay lighting situations, replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents cuts power use by a third. Linear T-8s are also an efficient choice.

When it comes to outdoor yard lights, standard mercury vapor lights dim over time. “There's substantial savings in replacing mercury lights,” Brinker says. “You can double the efficiency with high-pressure sodium vapor or pulse-start metal halide lamps.”

With the exception of compact fluorescent bulbs and induction lights, most will require new wiring and fixtures.

Cut grain-drying costs

Grain drying is a major energy user, depending on the weather conditions during the season. With batch or continuous grain bin dryers, adding heat recovery offers the potential to save 10% to 25% in energy use. This involves recycling heat from dried grain to heat incoming air to the dryer heater.

Stirring devices also offer 20% to 30% in energy savings, preventing overdrying in the bottom corn layers.

Saving on ventilation

Livestock building fans control temperatures, remove moisture and odors, and increase the air exchange rate. Selecting a high-efficiency fan may cut ventilation operating costs by up to 60%.

“If you overshoot the set point on the controllers, it causes the fan to increase ventilation, exhausting heat that was just added,” says Jay Harmon, Iowa State University livestock ag engineering housing specialist. “You waste a lot of energy.”

He recommends starting the offset at 1.5 to 2.0 below the set point.

“We encourage producers to use temperature loggers,” he says. “They cost about $40. They're set to read every few minutes. If you see a sawtooth pattern, it indicates you're bouncing between heating and cooling.” For more information, visit

BESS Lab, a research, testing, and educational lab at the University of Illinois-Champaign, offers an online comparison of ag ventilation fans. Find comparisons of airflow per watt and other test results at

Brinker conducts energy audits on many dairy farms, where she says heat recovery is the number one potential source of savings. Compressor heat can be used to preheat water before it enters the water heater.

“If it needs to be 170°F., it's free heat up to 125°F.,” she says.

USDA and NRCS offer national energy grants, including Rural Energy for America (REAP). See sidebar for more.

In 2007, Charlie Hammer and his wife, Nancy Kavazajian, signed up for a Wisconsin Rural Energy Program audit at their Beaver Creek, Wisconsin, operation.

“It was eye-opening to us,” Kavazajian says. “Our grain-drying system was installed in 2003, but we found out that there was new technology that would make it more efficient.”

Thanks to grants from Wisconsin Focus on Energy, they had a new grain-drying system in place by 2010.

Their continuous-flow grain dryer has a vacuum heat recovery system. The payback, which factors in the grant, is an estimated 7.6 years.

“We usually have very wet falls,” she says. “Improving efficiency is another way for us to fine-tune our operation.”

NRCS also has a new program to fund an energy audit and energy-efficient equipment. “EQIP has an energy piece that just fired up the last couple of years,” Brinker says. 

Learn more

Funds Support Energy Savings

Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry. A growing number of state and national financial incentives are available today to help farmers achieve greater energy efficiency.

“We're finding that these programs are driving more farmers to us for help,” says Jennifer Brinker, GDS Associates and a consultant for Wisconsin Focus on Energy. “In some cases, producers can obtain up to 90% cost-sharing.”

The USDA/NRCS has an Energy Self-Assessment website ( with a suite of four tools to increase energy awareness in agriculture and to help farmers and ranchers identify where they can reduce energy costs. Each tool evaluates options based on user-supplied inputs and provides energy and cost estimates based on energy-conserving equipment or renewable energy production equipment.

NRCS has personnel at the local level to help with the application process at

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