Maximizing energy efficiency on farms and ranches saves money, and who likes to spend money when they don’t have to?
But there are only so many hours in the day and only so many dollars for these sorts of projects. So the real question for many farmers is: Where to start? What are the ‘low-hanging fruit’ when it comes to energy-saving practices?
Here’s some advice from Lyle Lawrence, energy outreach officer for the provincial Farm Energy and Agri-Processing (FEAP) program in eastern Alberta.
Review maintenance practices
Going over your maintenance practices doesn’t take long, but can lead to substantial energy savings — especially over the long term, said Lawrence.
“It can be something as simple as making sure farm ventilation fans are clear of debris and the flashing hasn’t been bent and is restricting airflow,” he said. “Make sure doors and window seals are adequately maintained — a leaky overhead door on a heated shop is wasting energy 24 hours a day.
“Just simple fixes like that can start realizing potential immediately and not a lot of money has to be invested in upkeep.”
Size equipment for the farm
Bigger isn’t always better, said Lawrence.
It may be tempting to buy that bigger tractor now, but doing so adds extra fuel costs and — depending on the size of the farm — not necessarily add an advantage.
“Five years down the road you may need a bigger tractor but if you can get by for five years with one that’s two-thirds the size, there is a lot of efficiency that can be achieved.”
Match tire pressure to the job
Most producers understand the importance of proper inflation of tractor tires when it comes to reducing fuel costs and wear and tear. What they don’t always do, said Lawrence, is adjust tire pressure to the job they’re doing.
“There’s efficiency to be achieved by tailoring the unit to the job. I think sometimes that opportunity is overlooked,” he said.
“Say a tractor is out working in loose ground doing some tillage work. The producer may want to lower the tire pressure to increase traction or distribute their load more evenly. If they then use the tractor for hauling bales down the road, where a higher tire pressure may increase their efficiency, they may out of convenience decide to leave the tire pressure where it was instead of going through the steps to make sure they’re achieving optimum efficiency.”
Discover irrigation efficiencies
For irrigation farmers, optimizing the time and rate of irrigation can play a key role in reducing water and electricity use. By calling 310-FARM, Lawrence said producers can contact irrigation specialists who can help them discover the best practices for their farms.
“The answer might be something as simple as installing a timer or just changing their operating practices. It’s a pretty simple and immediate step to take,” he said.
Taking it to the next level
After taking the simple steps, Lawrence said producers should consider applying for cost-share funding for eligible projects through FEAP.
One relatively quick, inexpensive project includes installing submeters to measure electricity, natural gas or fuel.
“Submeters may be 100 per cent paid for through FEAP,” said Lawrence. “That’s a pretty good starting point if you want to get the most bang for your buck — a submeter can point the way towards the potential of energy efficiency improvement.”
Other projects may take a little more time but are relatively inexpensive with the help of FEAP funding. Changing out obsolete equipment is one of them.
“If something is still working it can be hard to justify putting money towards replacing it, but with the grants available it’s a good time to look into things like that,” he said.
Upgrading to more energy-efficient lighting in large barns or shops is also worth investigating while funding is available, said Lawrence.
“If you have older-style fluorescent lighting or even incandescent lighting, you can upgrade those to LED and then recover 50 per cent of the costs through the grant funding. There’s potential for real savings there.”
Being aware of the resources available through the provincial Ag Ministry can be key to successful energy efficiency projects, said Lawrence.
“FEAP has three outreach officers in the province — one in the north, one in the south and myself in the east — who are there to help producers pinpoint places to start.
“We also have material we can supply such as First Steps to Energy Management, a guidebook which helps lead people through their own on-farm assessments and helps them set a baseline for their own needs and uses.”
Outreach officers can be reached by calling 310-FARM. More information on FEAP is available at www.agric.gov.ab.ca by clicking the FEAP link.