Audits identify where savings can be made in your operation
Every producer has felt the crunch—bills get piled up, making the margins for profitability razor thin. Eliminating some of those expenses is an excellent way to increase these margins and keep cash at the dairy.
Energy use is a great place to target because it is easy to control since usage is measurable.
On the average U.S. dairy, energy accounts for $29,000 in annual spending, says Nicole DelSasso, a farm energy efficiency manager at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
DelSasso shared her thoughts about energy use and the importance of getting an energy audit at the recent I-29 Dairy Conference in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Through an energy audit that DelSasso performed at Prairieland Dairy in Nebraska, the operators identified areas to improve and a total estimated savings of approximately $19,000 per year.
The audit targeted various solutions, such as using a low-temperature detergent, installing an electric meter at a different rate, replacing lights as they go bad and replacing manure irrigation engines with electric motors.
"These are the types of things that are outlined in the audit that identify savings opportunities," DelSasso says.
For instance, at Prairieland, there was $6,700 per year in savings on lighting upgrades alone.
"It was good to go through this energy audit to bring it to the forefront of all of our employees and management team," says Dan Rice, Prairieland’s general manager.
The energy audit broke down energy use by month and into percentages of what the energy is used for. Lighting accounted for 20% of electricity use, ventilation was 36% and milk cooling was 6%.
"It really did a nice job of breaking it down so we could see where we are spending our money on electricity and where we can focus to be more efficient," says Rice, who was noteably impressed with the results.
Those types of changes can easily be communicated to customers.
"Consumers want to know this, and it’s bragging rights on your farm," DelSasso adds. "It is something we can talk about, and it is something that everyone can relate to."
The change in lighting at Prairieland was equivalent to powering nine homes in a year or taking 14 cars off of the road.
"These are the stories that are worth sharing, and it is why we want you to get an energy audit. It is why we want you to become more energy efficient, because these changes make a really big impact," DelSasso says.
Switching to low-temperature detergent can help a dairy operation save $4,000 in annual water heating costs.
"This should really interest you because it is about your margins; it is about enhancing your return on investment," she says.
Energy can account for up to 10% of costs on a dairy, so finding a way to control that spending will help the bottom line, says Kyle Clark, the program manager for agriculture sustainability innovation at EnSave, a third-party energy audit company that specializes in agriculture.
EnSave partners with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to perform the energy audits.
"There is funding available for these audits, sometimes through your local utility provider or through NRCS," Clark relates. "Once you get a qualified energy audit, it will qualify you for cost-sharing opportunities for equipment installs. That can cover a significant percentage of that install cost."
On the average, an energy audit can identify anywhere from 10% to 35% in energy cost savings for a typical farm on an annual basis.
The audits work as customized road maps, Clark says. Every dairy is different, and even neighboring dairies can be run differently. Energy use will also vary from region to region in the country.
"That is the importance of getting an energy audit [done on your farm] because it really helps you get a handle on your personal situation," Clark adds. "It tells you how to move forward and make your operation more energy efficient."
Audits Take Five Steps
Typical energy audits involve a five-step process, says Kyle Clark, the program manager for agriculture sustainability innovation at EnSave, an agricultural audit company.
1. The first step documents fuel usage history for the farm for a 12-month period, including electricity, propane, diesel and other measurable fuels. "That is really an integral part of this on how much you’re spending and where you are spending it," Clark says.
2. Next, an energy engineer is assigned to the farm. An initial interview is conducted by the engineer over the phone to find out about the operation and get a feel for it.
3. A farm visit is then performed by someone in the area who is an approved data collector. There are approximately 300 data collectors trained around the country, many of whom work in agriculture at milk cooperatives or in university Extension.
"The farm visit is pretty straightforward. They come out and collect the data that can’t be done over the phone," Clark adds. For instance, the data collectors take pictures of the information plates that appear on equipment to look up information on motors.
4. Next, the data collector sends the data back to the assigned engineer. "He or she will go through the information to crunch the numbers, do the analysis and type that all up into a report," Clark says.
5. Lastly, the 10- to 20-page report is mailed back to the farmer. A summary is provided at the start of the report to capsulize and prioritize energy savings recommendations. The report dissects each segment of the farm to aid those producers who want to more specifically pinpoint potential changes.