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Cutting your farm's energy costs

With input costs largely moving only one direction these days, any way to cut back on the largest farm cost -- energy -- can make a big difference to your farm's bottom line. Doing so can happen via large-scale changes or small adjustments to everyday operations and management.

A good starting point is to conduct an overall energy audit, according to the Iowa State University (ISU) Farm Energy Conservation and Efficiency Initiative. This includes:

  • Finding out how much energy is used on the farm. This can be done by keeping a farm energy log like the one found here. This will help in identifying how much energy your farm uses and where you can most readily trim back on energy usage.

  • Reaching out to energy efficiency resources, like your local ag Extension office or your local energy provider.

  • Conducting a farm energy audit that will illuminate improvements to energy efficiency and savings for the agricultural production system. A utility provider can also provide further information on carrying out an audit on your farm.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and they can add up. There will always be tips for saving electricity around the house. But here are some tips for farmers, specifically relating to the largest energy cost on the farm, diesel fuel.

  • Tractor fuel efficiency is based on power during take-off, drawbar load, hydraulic power, and lifting capacity. Using a tractor that is the right fit for your needs in each of these areas helps save fuel and money. The Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory gives a detailed list of tractors and their capabilities to help pick a right-fitting tractor.

  • Shifting your tractor transmission can  save fuel, or if done incorrectly, waste fuel. In order to get the most motor power for your fuel, use the “shift up, throttle down” method. It’s “applicable any time available tractor drawbar power significantly exceeds the power required for implement operation."

  • The demand charge that some people have on their electric bills can be in the customer’s control. If there is a customer on an electrical demand rate, that means he or she is getting charged for the amount of energy used and the maximum amount of energy used at any time. Control these rates by managing when the meter is read and when things are shut off, turned on, and/or tested throughout the month.

  • The most inexpensive and common light bulb -- incandescent -- is on its way out the door. Incandescent lighting gives of more energy in the form of heat rather than light, and ISU experts predict it to be extinct by 2014. There are many other light bulbs that can be used, but not limited to the following: Fluorescent, metal halide, high pressure sodium and mercury vapor.

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