EPBC: Get Energy Smart with FarmSmart

November 10, 2013 10:10 PM

FarmSmart Internet tool, developed by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, previews this week at Dairy Today’s Elite Producer Business Conference.

An easy-to-use Internet tool will allow you to quickly get an estimate of your dairy farm’s carbon footprint by answering eight relatively questions and committing half hour of your time.

By doing so, you’ll be able to benchmark your farm’s carbon footprint against the national average, and get a gauge on whether you might benefit from an energy audit of your farm. That, in turn, could lead to thousands of dollars in annual energy and fuel savings.

The tool, FarmSmart, was developed by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and is available here. It is being previewed this week at Dairy Today’s Elite Producer Business Conference in Las Vegas.

FarmSmart is a proactive approach to the carbon footprint issue, says Roberta Osborne, manager of the FarmSmart project for Dairy Management, Inc. and its Innovation Center.

Grocery brands are already demanding carbon footprint information from farms. Unilever, for example, has developed a 78-page questionnaire, a 65’-long document when the pages are stapled together end-to-end. The detailed survey would take hours to complete. And it’s just one of many such surveys being developed by all the major food brands to get carbon footprint data from farms and food suppliers.

The FarmSmart checklist asks easy-to-answer questions on your farm’s location, herd size, production, farming and feeding practices, manure storage and energy use. Algorithms built into the tool then estimate your farm’s carbon footprint score. The data and score are password protected, and can only be shared if the farmer so chooses.

The driving force behind FarmSmart is to develop an easy-to-use tool that gives an accurate estimate of a farm’s carbon footprint that doesn’t take hours to complete, is comparable farm-to-farm, and establishes a benchmark for the dairy industry. Then, as farms improve their energy efficiency over time, the industry can demonstrate it is making progress.

Dan Rice, who partners with three neighbors, completed the FarmSmart checklist in about 30 minutes. Prairieland Dairy, near Firth, Neb., milks 1,500 cows, processes its own fluid milk and has a composting operation that sells soil amendments to consumers and landscapers.

"We market our own milk, and we have thousands of customers tour our farm and processing plant each year," he says. "We get sustainability questions every day from these folks, so it’s really important that we start this conversation.

"If we don’t define what sustainability in the dairy industry is, the retailer will. At the same time, retailers don’t care what score I get, but they want to see improvement over time," he says.

By using the FarmSmart tool, he was able to establish a baseline carbon footprint for the Prairieland Dairy operation. He also completed an energy audit, which identified areas of low-hanging fruit where energy savings could be grabbed quickly.

For example, by switching to low-temperature detergent for his milk equipment wash, he was able to eliminate the need for one water heater. The energy auditors also noticed that one of his electric meters was still on a higher rate than his other four. He also replaced a diesel engine on his manure irrigation pump with an electric motor. And he’s replacing lights with higher efficiency bulbs as the old bulbs burn out.

All told, he realized $18,700 per year in annual energy costs savings, decreased electrical use by nearly 100,000 kWh and reduced his carbon footprint by 75 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking 14 cars off the road or enough energy to power nine homes.

While those saving might not be huge in the grand scheme of things, the effort demonstrates to customers that Prairieland Dairy is committed to local sustainability.

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