Fuel and electricity use on farms is just as important to sustainability and energy savings, as use of soil and water. Energy efficiency is an integral part of sustainable agriculture. While U.S. farms have almost doubled their average energy efficiency over the past 25 years, most farms still have good opportunities to save energy and money.
When the terms “conservation” and “efficiency” are distinguished from each other, “conservation” generally means reducing total energy usage (for example, using fewer gallons of fuel), while “efficiency” means increasing the work or yield per unit of energy (for example, getting more miles per gallon). Some farms and ranches are able to capture substantial energy savings by maintaining equipment better, improving building efficiency, and/or installing new high-efficiency motors or lighting.
Agricultural producers can reduce the energy required to heat and cool their homes and farm buildings by sealing the exterior to reduce air infiltration and increasing the insulation properties of all exterior walls, windows, and doors.
Greenhouse operations can reduce heating costs by implementing conservation measures or make better use of alternative fuels such as waste vegetable oil, shelled corn, or wood to reduce or eliminate the consumption of fossil fuels.
Livestock operations can be designed to limit the energy they need to house and raise animals. Efficient use of tractors and field equipment can optimize the use of fuel and reduce the number of operating hours.
Irrigation efficiency can be improved through equipment changes, pump and motor maintenance, or better management that closely monitors crop irrigation needs.
Grain-producing farms can reduce energy consumption and lower their costs by improving their grain drying system.
Other farming practices such as grazing livestock, cycling nutrients through manure and cover crops, and rotating crops to control pests can also reduce energy use.
A significant portion of the energy costs of agriculture comes from sources such as fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs that require significant energy to produce and apply. (The term “indirect energy use” is generally used when energy is consumed off the farm, as in the manufacturing of fertilizer.) Making efficient use of nutrients on the farm, especially nitrogen fertilizer, is an effective way to reduce agricultural energy. Nutrient management plans, soil testing, banding fertilizers and pesticides, and precision agriculture similarly help reduce energy use.
A series of Farm Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips pages has been developed to help with efforts to optimize efficiency on the farm.
For Additional Information
- Mike Morris, National Center For Appropriate Technology (ATTRA)
- Vern Grubinger, Professor, University of Vermont Extension