Farm Energy Conservation & Efficiency Considerations

Energy use reduction and energy cost savings can be achieved by management changes, retrofits of facilities, and purchase of energy saving equipment. Future modules will provide detail on energy savings farm practices, but a few are important to mention here:

  1. Conservation tillage – reduces tractor fuel consumption because fewer passes are necessary.
  2. Low water use irrigation – these systems conserve energy as well as water.
  3. Crop rotation, cover cropping, and integrated pest management – these practices may reduce both direct and indirect energy costs by reducing inputs.
  4. Nitrogen management – use of precision agriculture to more efficiently manage nitrogen can result in reduced fertilizer use. Use of manure for fertilizer, and accounting for nitrogen and other nutrients in fertilizer, also reduces the amount of fertilizer that must be applied. Soil testing should be used to manage fertilizer use.

Some of these management and equipment practices can be achieved at relatively low cost and positive return. However, there are potential trade-offs to these practices, as well as investments of time and effort to incorporate new farming practices. Consideration should be given to economics when considering changes in crop rotations and other management practices. Profitability may be less for some crop rotations but may result it agronomic benefits.

Doing an energy audit and investing in energy efficiency measures can reduce farm energy costs and the cost of renewable energy investments in the future. There are many energy saving measures for all types of agricultural enterprises available, and tools such as energy audits can help determine t which energy saving measure will have the greatest return on investment.. The cheapest and cleanest energy is that which isn’t used.  Reducing energy used through conservation measures helps improve the environment, reduces costs for farmers and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.  Many energy efficiency measures have high returns or faster paybacks than energy production from biomass or other renewable energy sources. Some energy efficiency measures that have positive returns include using variable speed vacuum pumps on dairy farms, reduced pressure irrigation, dry-eration for drying corn, and thermal curtains for greenhouses. These and other energy efficiency options are covered in detail in Module 2.


Commonly Asked Questions:

1.  What is an energy audit? An energy audit is a systematic process to estimate energy use on a farm. In an energy audit, a farmer provides information about current energy use in farm operations, and details farm practices and equipment use. Audits are typically done by a professional energy auditor. Auditors establish a baseline of how much energy is used on a farm by compiling information on the types of fuel used, the amount of fuel used for different operations, and equipment use. This baseline information is used to determine where energy savings can occur.

2.  When is the best time to get an energy audit and invest in energy efficiency?  An opportune time to invest in efficiency is when a piece of equipment must be replaced (worn out or need to upgrade capacity) or when it is economically justified. Energy efficiency measures almost always have a higher return on investment than bioenergy or other types of renewable energy. There are management practices and low cost options for saving energy. Some examples might include maintenance on equipment such as cleaning fans, switching to compact fluorescent lights, using time clocks or thermostats to control lighting and ventilation, or using shorter maturing varieties of corn to allow it more time for field drying. As energy costs increase, efforts should be made to evaluate and implement energy saving methods in advance of escalating energy costs to protect profits.

3.  Why do an energy assessment? Doing an energy assessment will help quantify the amount of energy used for different operations and identify where potential savings might be possible. There are a number of ways to do energy assessments.  A simple way is to look around at the energy consumption on the farm and evaluate where you can make changes.  Simple things like changing light bulbs, turning off lights, etc. can make a big difference.  There are on-line tools and publications that can assist you in doing your own energy assessment or you may want to hire an energy auditor to review your operation and make recommendations.


There are a number of on-line resources available for doing energy assessments. A few such resources are provided below.

North Dakota Farmstead Energy Audit:

ATTRA Links to Farm Energy Calculators:

NRCS Energy Calculator Tools:

NRCS Energy Self Assessment Tools:

Purdue On-farm Energy Efficiency Tools:

Wisconsin Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources, University of Wisconsin Extension,


4.  How can I find an energy auditor? Hiring a professional energy auditor to audit your business can be a good investment. A professional auditor who has experience in agriculture will be able to quickly identify the most cost effective areas to make investments in to reduce energy costs. Energy auditors with farm experience can be a challenge to find and there is not a list of qualified auditors available in most states. The first place to start would be your local electric utility. Many energy programs are run through the local electrical utilities so they would likely know of energy auditor that would be qualified to agricultural enterprises.  It would be recommended that an auditor have a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification or be a Professional Engineer (P.E.).  There are a number of consulting companies that also specialize in energy auditing. Be sure the consulting company has knowledge and experience with the type of agricultural practices in your region.