Dairy farmers gathered for a workshop about energy efficiency on farms on Dec. 11 at People’s Energy Cooperative in Oronoco, Minn. PHTOO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Dairy farmers gathered for a workshop about energy efficiency on farms on Dec. 11 at People’s Energy Cooperative in Oronoco, Minn.
ORONOCO, Minn. - Dairy farmers in southeast Minnesota gathered for a workshop titled "Lunch and Learn: Energy Efficient Dairy Production" on Dec. 11 at People's Energy Cooperative in Oronoco, Minn.
The Southeast Clean Energy Resource Team, People's Energy Cooperative, The Minnesota Project, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Dairy Herd Improvement Association and the University of Minnesota Extension hosted the workshop.
"Today's a chance for us to learn about all of you and get feedback on energy efficient technologies we know a lot of farmers use and some farmers haven't yet adopted," said Lissa Pawlisch, a member of the University of Minnesota Extension Clean Energy Resource Team. "We're trying to find out why (some farmers don't use energy efficient technology) so we can take action and think about rebates."
To help with this effort, The Minnesota Project surveyed 57 Minnesota dairy farms by pairing with Hastings Cooperative Creamery. The survey included on-farm energy practices and behavior changes.
Although this survey found a large amount of information about behaviors regarding energy use on farms, the biggest surprise to The Minnesota Project was that many farmers are using high pressure sodium lights.
"That's a pretty energy intense light form," said Fritz Ebinger, clean energy program manager for The Minnesota Project. "We push people to T-8s, T-5s, CFLs and even LEDs."
A large portion of the workshop included the dairy farmers sharing if they used certain energy efficient technologies on their farm and why. They were able to respond through an anonymous clicker survey. Most of the dairy farmers sited limited capital funding for why they have not implemented the following technologies on their farm.
About half of the farmers had variable speed drives on their vacuum pumps.
"You don't want to run a motor 100 percent of its speed if you don't need it 100 percent of the time," Ebinger said.
From the previous survey with the 57 Minnesota dairy farmers, it showed this technology costs about $7,000, with payback being between six and 26 years without rebates depending on the use.
About the same number of people in the room used a variable speed drive on their milk transfer pump. The initial cost is about $3,600 with payback between three and 11.6 years.
Most dairy farmers in the room used a plate cooler, which costs an average of $3,600 according to the survey with payback around five to six years.
Scroll compressors weren't an item many dairy farmers used with 79 percent responding they did not have one. They cost about $3,200 with a payback of about eight to nine years. Discussions about this technology included the benefits, which included being 15 to 20 percent more efficient and having fewer moving parts.
A majority of the farmers used refrigeration heat recovery units, which capture heat from a refrigerant. They increase the life of a water heater and increase compressor efficiency. It costs about $3,100 and has a payback of about 9.6 years.
Most farmers didn't use high volume/low speed fans, which cost about $5,000 and the payback varies. Two farmers in the group gave their input about the fans they have with mixed feedback. Although the fans are quiet and keep the barn cooler, they also had to make modifications to the fans without the help of a company in order to make the fans run smoothly. Producers who don't have these fans said they don't have the right rafters for them and prefer circular fans.
About 91 percent of the dairy producers in the room said they have circulation fans, which cost about $3,500 with varying time for payback.
About 57 percent of the dairy farmers in the room didn't have low or no energy waterers. Although they cost $1,300 and can have a payback between two to five years, most of the farmers said they don't use them because the water will freeze in the winter.
The last technology of the survey was energy efficient lighting, including T-8s, LEDs and CFLs. A handful of dairy farmers had recently installed LEDs. They cost about $1,500 to $2,000 and had a payback of a few years.
"It's the biggest bang for your buck," Ebinger said. "There's more energy savings with an upgrade in technology."
So far, most of the dairy farmers in the room said they liked their LEDs, there was discussion about other dairy farmers who had installed the technology nearly two years ago and could not find replacement parts because the technology was already obsolete. Ebinger and others in the room agreed that energy efficient lighting is constantly being updated and is evolving as new information becomes available.
All the hosts of the workshop encouraged farmers to talk to their local energy cooperative before they start any projects or make any energy efficient upgrades. There are rebates and grants available. However, some grants have to be applied for before the farmers have purchased their supplies.
Some of this funding is available through the federal and state programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Livestock Investment Grant (LIG) through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). For more information about funding and programs available, contact CERTs by visiting their website, www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org.