Audits Key to Efficient Farming

by | Nov 22, 2016

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Energy Manage farmFarms are far different than offices and commercial facilities. Therefore, they have their unique energy requirements and an equally unique path to energy efficiency.

But there are many similarities. Like commercial and industry (C&I) facilities, energy audits are key tools in an energy efficiency initiative. Offers for audits from the government are common. For instance, The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for energy audit and renewable energy development assistance grants until January 31 of 2017, according to the Greenville (TN) Sun.

Audits actually play a double and interrelated role. The first is the most obvious: A farm audit finds ways in which farms can save money by increasing efficiency. The related value of an audit is that it is a prerequisite that allows farm owners to tap into various grants from utilities and the government.

Late last month, offered a feature on Z&J Farms in Cascade, Iowa. The owners wanted to save operational expense and improve procedures on the farm, which features specialty corn that thrives if the kernels are dried in a certain way. The owners wanted to qualify for funding help. To do this, they needed to complete an Agricultural Energy Management Plan which, in essence, is an audit.

The audit was done and recommendations made. Z&J ended up getting funding for about 50 percent of the grain dryers, motors and lighting replacements, all of which were recommended by the audit.

Farm audits have similarities and differences compared to C&I audits. The audit at Z&J was performed by Kloberdanz Consulting. Principal Chad Kloberdanz told Energy Manager Today that owners of farms and ranches — especially small ones — have very personal stakes in their facilities and know every nuances and detail. That makes the audit process highly collaborative. This, of course, is no different than family owned and operated facilities in the suburbs and cities.

However, though most businesses have their busy and slow times of year, the difference is greater in rural areas. That puts different nuance on the timing of the audits and implementation of changes that are recommended. “[T]here’s a seasonality aspect to the energy usage – for crop farmers, they will use a majority of their energy in the short grain drying season,” Kloberdanz wrote. “Often replacing an old inefficient grain dryer with a new efficient one will reap huge rewards, even though the equipment is only used a couple of months out of the year.”

There seems to be a lot of opportunity available for farms that want to run audits. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) says that there are three audit levels for “eligible farms and on-farm producers.” They are a walk-throughs that essentially eyeball potential energy efficiency gains, detailed audits that meet ANSI/ASABE (American National Standards Institute and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) S612 standards and, finally, audits that drill down on specific systems, energy efficiency measures or renewable energy.

In most cases, the high level view is the best. “[It involves looking] at all aspects of the farm operation – starting with the more obvious ones – grain dryers, shop insulation, etc, but also taking a look at all lighting at the site, motors, and even crop practices,” Kloberdanz wrote. “Time and time again, the producers I work with are surprised how easy it is to make gains in efficiency, and how cost-effective it can be, with short payback periods… especially when you factor in the rebates, grants, and other funding opportunities available.”

Agricultural audits are, of course, simply a tool to an end. That end is making farming more energy efficient. Does Kloberdanz think that audits are playing that role adequately? “Absolutely, in the last 10 years, we’ve seen a real focus on providing producers the funding they need to make these improvements,” he wrote. “It’s helped level the playing field – making is possible for smaller operations to replace their old, inefficient dryers and lighting and in turn save energy costs over the long-term.  It’s a win-win, a good thing for our farm economy and for our environment.”

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