Stop the Energy Drain

September 30, 2011 01:59 PM
Stop the Energy Drain

A few tweaks can improve the efficiency of your farm shop, grain bin system and machinery

Alightbulb appearing above the head of a person with a great idea only happens in cartoons. On Kenny and Bart Roth’s farm, when good ideas happen, the lights really do shine brighter.

The father-and-son duo built their Mexico, Mo., farm shop in 2000. Machinery storage was added in 2006. By 2011, energy prices and new incentives to improve energy use prompted them to install suggested energy upgrades through the Missouri Agricultural Energy Saving Team—A Revolutionary Opportunity (MAESTRO).

"Our shop’s nine metal halide lights weren’t bright enough anymore. We didn’t know it when we bought them, but they actually get dimmer over time," Kenny says. "We had already decided to install new lights when we heard about the MAESTRO program, so we thought maybe we could get some help with the improvement costs."

The MAESTRO program, whose home page is at, is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy and operated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the University of Missouri and EnSave Inc. Through the program, farm operators complete a farm audit to determine their energy usage and receive technical assistance to install energy-efficient equipment. If the project meets the 15% energy savings requirement and the suggested equipment is installed, farmers can receive loan guarantees or installation incentives.

In the audit, the Roths found they were spending $0.081 per kilowatt hour on their utilities, including the farm shop, grain bins, farm home and general operations.

"The halide lights in the main shop area and above the storage unit weren’t providing the immediate light needed," says Brent Erisman, the MAESTRO Extension associate who helped the Roths with the project. "It took so long for the lights to warm up that they would leave them on all day, just so the lights would be at full brightness when they came back from the fields at night."

saving energy2
The new T8 light fixtures in Kenny (above) and Bart Roth’s machine shed were mounted to existing hangers and will provide a 30% to 35% energy savings. PHOTO: Sara Brown

Let there be light. To remedy the problem, the Roths installed six-bulb T8 4' fluorescent fixtures, as recommended by the program, and also added four fixtures to increase the amount of lumens in the shop when they work on machinery. Even with this additional lighting, they will see a 30% to 35% improvement in energy efficiency, Erisman says.

"The T8 lights do not have the warm-up or cool-down wait periods that the halogens had, so the lights are on a lot less than the old ones. Just being able to turn the lights off and back on when we need them—the savings is instant," Kenny Roth says.

"He will probably see an even greater improvement, just for that convenience, which we will be evaluating in the next year," Erisman says.

Online resources. Missouri is not the only state to increase awareness of farm energy usage. The Iowa State University (ISU) Farm Energy Conservation and Efficiency Initiative took shape in 2008 after Extension staff and members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation completed case studies with four farmers and determined that there wasn’t enough information about current energy use and technologies. Most recommendations hadn’t been updated since the energy crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.

ISU’s Farm Energy Initiative is sponsored by the Iowa Energy Center and offers technical assistance information at and at Iowa field days. "We recognize that energy efficiency isn’t the No. 1 priority for most producers, so we try to incorporate energy efficiency practices, tips and techniques in with other program materials," says Dana Petersen, program coordinator for the ISU Farm Energy Initiative.

Right now, the program has more than 15 publications that address a variety of issues, such as fuel efficiency for tractors and electricity efficiency readings for ventilation fans, she says.

"Any of our publications can be used by farmers across the country, maybe with the exception of grain dryers that may be more specific to Iowa. But anything that deals with equipment, whether it’s tractors or tillage, is relevant for folks doing row-crop operations across the Midwest,"
Petersen says. "The same goes for our livestock materials. We have a couple items on ventilation for swine and poultry buildings, and there are more poultry operations as you look south. So those mater-ials are going to be relevant for folks who are located in the greater Midwest area.

"When input prices and diesel and gasoline prices are high, producers are more concerned about energy management for the farm business. We want to make resources available to help them manage those costs. You can’t control the weather, but you can control some of how those energy costs are being utilized in production," she adds.

One of the most popular Farm Energy Initiative resources addresses tractor maintenance, specifically the importance of sticking to a strict maintenance schedule for fuel and air filters. "It’s a quick and easy way to make sure you are getting the most energy-efficient performance from your engine. Folks are surprised that it makes that much of a difference—a 3% to 4% fuel savings just by being consistent with filter maintenance on tractors," Petersen says.

Start saving energy on your farm. Your local Extension office can be your first resource for farm efficiency information. There, you can find out if your state has an energy audit program similar to Missouri’s, or a project like Iowa’s.

Your second resource should be your local electric provider. The Roths were able to finance a portion of their light upgrade through MAESTRO but also received assistance from Consolidated Electric Cooperative in Mexico, Mo.

"It doesn’t matter where you are located; contact your local utility provider with questions. They almost always have resources that can help you make decisions about updating your equipment or rebates that might be available," Petersen says.

"These resources might not completely fit your business," she adds, "but they might provide some information to help you determine where the energy efficiency rating really matters in terms of the return on your investment."

Back to news



Spell Check

No comments have been posted to this News Article

Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer