You may have seen graphs, articles, videos etc. telling you how much energy is consumed by the agricultural sector. It’s not our business to tell you what you should eat, but it is our business to help you lower your energy use, generate your own energy and save money while doing it. The question we want to answer is: WHERE is all that energy consumed and what can be done about it?
This is quite the question to unpack in a single article! Agriculture is a huge industry with many sub-industries such as fertilizer production, grain farming, dairy farms, slaughterhouses, processing and packaging. We’ll go over a few of the more common industries and you can make inferences as to what the other industries may consume.
The handy graphic below from the American Institute of Bioscience (AIB) gives a great overview of where energy is consumed in crop production. (1)
Since the majority of energy is used in the production and distribution of nitrogen fertilizers, AIB found that converting to no-till farming with a legume cover crop could reduce energy use by 37%. A low hanging fruit that can offer great payback is reducing the energy used in grain drying. Note that this is an American study and may miss some of the main consumers in rural Alberta such as irrigation pumps. In arid regions, installing energy-efficient water pumps, or even solar power irrigation pumps, can result in significant savings.
In the case of dairy farms, about 50% of the energy used is electricity and 50% natural gas. The below graphs from the Alberta government (2) give an overview of where that energy is consumed.
Primary energy efficiency measures to consider here are: high-efficiency water boilers, high-efficiency pumps in milking operation, well designed, efficient refrigeration systems and a well-designed ventilation system.
Lastly, on pork farms, the split is more like 62% natural gas, 38% electricity.
Space heating and ventilation go hand in hand here. A well-insulated barn with the right controls and ventilation fans can result in better energy efficiency and thousands of dollars in energy savings.
Key technologies that may be applicable on your farm are:
- Variable frequency drives
- High-efficiency fans
- High-efficiency hot water heaters
- Proper control systems
- High-efficient water pumps
More than any technology, though, it’s a critical review of your energy use that will make you savings. As with any energy efficiency measure, it starts with an awareness of where your energy is used, best practices, good habits follow and technology is the final piece.
Check out our article on the Growing Forward 2 program from the Alberta government regarding on-farm energy efficiency and generation (such as solar) and our portfolio of energy efficiency case studies.
- Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Crop Production Using the Farm Energy Analysis Tool . Richard, Gustavo G. T. Camargo Matthew R. Ryan Tom L. 2013, BioScience.
- Alberta Government. Growing Forward 2 Factsheets.