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Energy audit reaps savings for farmers

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Because they’re busy with daily chores, farmers often can’t find time to research the latest energy-efficient technology on the market.

Now, they have access to someone who has done that work for them. Community energy auditor Gerald K. Loch visits farms in the north country to slash energy costs. The expert from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County has started conducting free energy audits at farms this spring, thanks to $6.2 million in state funding awarded this year to the Agriculture Energy Efficiency Program from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Along with providing farms free audits, the program funds up to 75 percent of energy-efficient equipment for which farmers qualify. Up to $250,000 can be awarded per farm.

On Monday, Mr. Loch audited Forrester Farm in Belleville, 8180 County Route 78. He toured each facility at the dairy farm with owner Dennis W. Forrester, asking questions about every piece of equipment powered by electricity.

For openers, the auditor asked Mr. Loch about the light bulbs at a dairy parlor housing 120 calves. Some 70 fluorescent light bulbs lined the ceiling’s wooden beams: 30 65-watt bulbs with a 300-watt lighting equivalent when compared with a normal bulb, and 40 25-watt bulbs with a 25-watt equivalent. The auditor used empty boxes to review the particulars of each bulb, writing down figures on his clipboard. Though he was impressed by the efficient lighting scheme, Mr. Loch recommended that the farmer purchase bulbs with a cool white tint rather than yellow in the future, because those bulbs produce brighter illumination.

“Lighting quality is extremely important for the health of cows,” he said, explaining that research shows cattle produce more milk when they are housed with sufficient lighting. “Lighting needs to cover the full length of the cow, because the cow thinks it’s daylight as a result.”

The two men next inspected a 13,500-square-foot parlor facility — interconnected to the older first parlor — with free-standing stalls at which 120 milking cows are housed. This time, the source of Mr. Loch’s interest were five large fans stationed at the end of the parlor. The high-powered fans produce tunnel-style ventilation, blowing air through the length of the parlor. Two 6-by-6-foot fans are based at the center of the wall, complemented by three 4-by-4-foot fans. The 10-foot plexiglass ceiling of the free-standing parlor addition, which Mr. Loch built last year, is designed to ease the circulation of air.

After taking several photos of the fans with his digital camera, Mr. Loch outlined some improvements that could be made to the system.

“Blades can be installed to give them a better range, and an automatic thermostat control could help you better measure the temperature,” he said.

The pair next toured a separate room in which milk is cooled and refrigerated. After examining the old compressor equipment used to cool the milk, Mr. Loch’s eyes lit up when he discovered it was manufactured in 1977.

“Any unit built before 1994 is going to take three times as much energy to do the same work,” he said. He said a new compression system would qualify for funding under the state energy program. Surprised by this discovery, Mr. Forrester said he plans to pursue the funding.

“It’s really a no-brainer, because the grant makes it much more feasible,” said Mr. Forrester, who purchased the farm with his wife, Carol J., in 1981.

Mr. Forrester also plans to purchase a soybean oil extractor this summer by tapping into the NYSERDA funding. Extracting oil from raw soybeans, he said, the ground soybean meal that is fed to cattle will be healthier and more digestible, enabling them to consume more protein. Additional equipment could enable him to convert that oil to biodiesel fuel, to be used for operating farm machinery.

To contact Mr. Loch for more information about the energy program, call 788-8450, ext. 267, or send an email to GKL22@cornell.edu.

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