by Courtney Llewellyn

It’s about so much more than just the final product in farming. Before there is a gallon of milk or a colorful display of vegetables on a farm stand, there are major inputs – the most important being time, money and energy. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce energy consumption, which in turn can save farmers some of that other precious resource: money.

Adam Boese of the Daylight Savings Company recently led a session on “Energy Savings – Ways to Cut Costs” at the Empire State Producers Expo. His company performs energy audit on farms around New York State. The USDA-NRCS notes that the purpose of farm energy audits is to “identify opportunities to reduce energy use and costs; change current behavior; and use energy efficient equipment.” That information can lead to recommendations on ways to reduce energy usage while maintaining or even increasing farm production.

The USDA-NRCS stated that it makes sense to have an energy audit done when a farm has minimum fossil fuel usage, has a high likelihood of installing energy-saving recommendations and will have a long lifespan. There are things farmers can do before they have someone complete an audit, however.

“Step one is to find your electric bill and look at the monthly usage comparisons,” Boese said. “Look for trends, or if there are spikes, figure out why they occurred.” He also recommended checking your bill for estimated readings versus meter readings. Estimates may be over actual usage, and you can read your own meter instead of relying on your utility company’s estimates.

Boese said every New York farmer should consider signing up for the Residential Agricultural Discount Program, which he called “the best discount in the country.” Those eligible sign up once a year (usually around July 1) by applying through your utility company. The biggest caveat is that your residence needs to be on the same property as the farm and use the same meter.

Additionally, Boese noted that sales tax should not be included on a farmer’s electric bill. If it is, you should call your utility to have it removed.

In New York, users are permitted to seek out their own utility providers, rather than relying on what is typically provided in an area. If you decide to go this route, Boese warns to be wary of locked-in rates versus variable rates. “A locked-in rate may be stable, but it also may be a lot higher than something that only varies a little month to month,” he said. “That variable rate might also be worth it if it’s low 10 months out of the year and only jumps for two months.”

Boese told farmers to be diligent about checking rates and renewals. “It’s a job. It’s another job,” he said. “But you have to check it on a monthly basis.”

When it comes to the actual investigation, auditors look at anything that uses energy. “They offer more than just saying ‘switch lights to LEDs, install high-efficiency fans.’ People know that,” Boese said. “These audits help you plan for the future and help with the present.” He added they also help you compare what you are doing to what’s being done on other farms.

An energy audit will show every energy cost reduction opportunity. They look at billing, equipment fuel usage, lighting, heaters, pumps, high efficiency motors, heat reduction, coil defrost systems, refrigeration, renewable energy options – everything. They can even help farmers find net zero strategies, if that is something they wish to achieve.