REACT 2008 Article Series - Article #7
Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Options for Agriculture
|Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Options for Agriculture|
Cedric Macleod, MacLeod Agronomics
Some industries have the ability to pass costs directly on to consumers, the agriculture industry is, however, not one. The energy challenges faced by farmers are varied by industry, but touch them all. Whether it be diesel fuel costs for potato and beef farmers who rely on tractor power to harvest their crops, propane cost increases for heating hog and poultry barns, or electricity costs for running milk processing and handling systems on dairy farms, energy costs are affecting food prices across the board.
The good news is that we have energy options, the challenge is that they will generally cost more in the short run but provide long-term price stability and cost advantages. Consider how the price of crude oil has climbed rapidly over the past year, the shock to the economy is being felt across all sectors, in all homes, in all pocketbooks. Unhinging our farms from an oil based energy future will help to smooth out the wild price swings that can swamp a farm in a hurry if prices rise quickly as we have seen.
The first critical step towards energy self-sufficiency is developing and implementing an energy conservation plan. Start with an energy audit from a qualified individual, with some practical on-farm knowledge of how agriculture works. The average energy savings for NB farms identified after completing 12-energy audits of commercial facilities was 23 per cent. Many of the technologies and practices recommended in the energy master plan delivered to each of the audited farms, carried a payback period of 1-4 years. Given the wild ride that the energy market seems destined to take, energy conservation is the most cost effective way of sheltering your farm from the ups and downs.
Your farm energy master plan may also have room for an on-farm energy production system. Maritime farms situated along the coast have a great opportunity to tap wind resources to make wind energy. Farmers with liquid manure resources may be in a position to produce power from biogas collected from the manure stream. Producers with woodlots could be thinking about how to incorporate biomass energy (electrical or heat) into their energy future. Two big challenges will have to be addressed to actually enter the market as an Independent Power Producer; Access to capital & Government Policy. Most farms are cash strapped and may find it difficult to lay out the upfront costs required to become an energy producer. Nothing in the energy world happens without government policy, and the same goes for renewable. Government policy that encourages local, renewable based energy production will benefit the whole of society by maintaining a strong rural community and keeping dollars running through the local economy. New Brunswick currently imports roughly $60-million worth of heating oil annually, money lost from resource based economy.
An Energy Master Plan is a must have item for all Maritime farms if we hope to weather the energy market tide that is sweeping North America. Choose energy conservation first and consider how renewable energy production can fit into your everyday farm chores. Educate yourself on energy policy and turn up the heat on your local officials to invest in local communities and renewable energy resources first. We have invested in the future of others for far too long by sending money off-shore for coal, oil, natural gas, etc. It’s time we invested in our own energy future.