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Reducing energy use in production agriculture

Reducing energy use in production agriculture

Running a farm takes a lot of energy—in more ways than one. In 2009, Minnesota’s 81,000 farms spent more than $700 million on transportation fuel and an additional $160 million on electricity. 

Energy use on Minnesota farms and production facilities varies considerably depending on the type and size of the operation. For dairy farms, electricity is the biggest energy cost, used for collecting and cooling milk. Grain producers use significant amounts of diesel fuel to plant and harvest their crops. 

University of Minnesota Extension is researching ways to improve on-farm energy efficiency. Several Extension faculty and staff have recently become certified energy auditors through the Farm Energy Auditor Training Program, and as part of the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), Extension is working with utilities across the state to design incentive programs that meet the needs of farmers.

We recommend these first steps for producers who want to lower their energy use and costs:

Replace old equipment with energy-efficient models. For example, consider replacing old livestock ventilation fans with more energy-efficient fans. The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has seen great success in Minnesota by replacing old grain dryers with new, more energy-efficient models. In many cases, the higher-efficiency equipment will be more expensive to purchase than the less efficient option, but the lower operating costs of these more efficient units can often provide a payback of those extra costs in the first year.

Clean and maintain your equipment. In an average mechanically ventilated livestock barn, cleaning and maintenance of the shutters on the exhaust fans can result in energy savings of 40%.

Ask your energy supplier or utility about energy saving programs.

There are several available programs for which you may qualify, through the utility or though the federal rural energy efficiency programs such A REAP and USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Some utilities also offer “off-peak” electric rates that can be half the cost of standard rates. 

Get an energy audit. An energy audit or assessment will tell you how much energy you’re using and what part of your operation you should target for energy use reduction. A list of farm energy auditors is available through the REAP offices by contacting Ron Omann at (651) 602-7796 or or through The Minnesota Project by reaching Jake Fischer at (651) 789-3330 or Local utilities can also refer farmers to energy auditors.

For more information about energy efficiency, visit

Larry D. Jacobson is an agricultural engineer with University of Minnesota Extension.

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