Frozen farm

Frozen farms rely on energy  to keep livestock facilities warm and grain dry, and there might be cost savings to be had by upgrading certain areas.

Right now most farmers are probably just thrilled that there is power and their furnace works at all, but a few are likely to get a shock when looking at their energy usage this winter. For those farmers, this spring might be the time for an energy audit of the farm.

There are a variety of ways to approach the audit process. The USDA offers grants for energy audits through its EQIP program. Many energy companies also conduct audits for their customers.

“It’s a popular program,” says Mike Wagner, a spokesperson for Alliant Energy. “There are a lot of farmers who have questions about their operations. They are looking for expert advice.”

The EQIP program includes an on-farm energy initiative. Farmers work through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to get a grant to conduct an energy audit or a grant to make specific energy efficiency changes on their farm, according to Dave Brommel, EQIP coordinator for Iowa.

Under the EQIP program, farmers can choose who conducts the audit.

The scope of the energy audit can vary depending on the type of farm operation, but the potential savings for many farms are large.

Those EQIP audits may look at items ranging from lighting to heating to grain drying to irrigation, Brommel says.

The type of energy audits done by Alliant and other energy companies may not look at as many different items as those in an extensive EQIP audit, but it can still be very useful, Wagner says.

“We do a walk-through of the operation,” he says. “We go over it from top to bottom and do a cost-benefit analysis.”

In some cases there may be rebates or other programs through the power company aimed at encouraging changes, but the final decisions still belong to the customer.

One classic example of a change that may be recommended is to switch a lighting system in a livestock barn or some other part of the farm operation. Lighting technology has changed in recent years and LED lighting may be much more efficient than what is presently in use.

Farmers are often handy and could be used to working on an existing lighting or energy system to keep it running, Wagner says. But in some cases that may be working against them. If they are working to keep an inefficient system going instead of replacing it with a much more efficient system, they may be wasting time and money.

Electrical or drying systems for grain bins are other areas where savings are sometimes found, he adds. Things like heat lamps or heat mats in livestock facilities, as well as all types of systems in dairy operations, are also items where savings may be found.

Irrigation pumps are another prime area of savings in some operations. Various electric motors may be energy hogs, and ventilation fans on grain or livestock structures may be heavy energy users as well.

Of course, some farmers may be unwilling to spend money up-front on energy saving ideas right now because of a poor farm economy, but for some operators the idea of becoming more efficient and saving money in the long-run may be a good option, Wagner says.

For more information on the EQIP program, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.

For more information Alliant’s energy audit program, look online at www.alliantenergy.com/farm.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.