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Energy Conservation and Efficiency


As energy prices continue to rise, farmers must reduce electricity and fuel use on the farm in order to reduce operation costs. Many energy conservation measures are free, low- cost, or have a cost-effective payback. This publication provides an overview of energy conservation across the many operations of the average livestock or field crop farm in Massachusetts. After reading this, the next step is to use a farm energy calculator as a self assessment tool to determine where energy inefficiencies are occurring on your farm and where improvements can be made. Next, conduct an energy audit of your farm. Many utility companies can recommend an auditor or audit information can be found through the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) or the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Finally, take advantage of state and federal tax breaks, grants, and inventive programs for reducing energy use on your farm (see Additional Information section below).

Tips for Reducing Energy Use

Tractors, field work, grain driers, buildings, watering systems, fences, and other farm equipment are all part of the daily operations on a crop and livestock farm today and can incur high costs in energy use. The two main types of energy use on farms are electricity from the local utility company and fuel use such as heating oil or petroleum for running farm equipment. The following pages offer simple ways energy improvements can be made on the farm.

Tractors and Vehicles

Driving equipment on fields is one of the largest uses of energy on the farm, so careful maintenance and use of tractors will improve energy efficiency greatly. Use the correct grade of fuel for the weather (No. 2-D for warm weather and No. 1-D for extremely cold weather). Keeping engines running well in the winter with electric warmers is cheaper than using fuel to heat the engine. Idling vehicles can use up to 20% of total fuel use, so turn off machinery when not in use. If there are fuel tanks on the farm, keep them cool to reduce evaporation of fuels, and regularly inspect it for leaks.

Figure 1. Factors influencing reduced fuel efficiency on a diesel tractor

Regular maintenance of farm machinery including tune- ups, replacing filters, changing oil, and keeping tires inflated and balanced will help machinery last longer and save fuel. Reduce extra weight on vehicles to reduce fuel use. Use an appropriately sized tool or machine for the job so as not to waste fuel. Too much or too little horsepower will reduce fuel efficiency. Drive tractors in higher gears and at lower rpm or throttle setting to reduce fuel use but not too slow as to produce black smoke or a sluggish response. Sharpen ground tillage implements to work the soil with less resistance. Consider purchasing an ATV so as not to use a full sized truck for some smaller on-farm tasks.

Field Practices

Switching to no-till or minimum tillage can reduce fuel use by 86% but may increase the farmer’s dependency on herbicides to control weeds. Several conservation tillage methods exist such as zone or strip tillage where only the seeding area is plowed or ridge and mulch till which require fewer trips across the field. Combining field tasks such as spreading manure and planting simultaneously can reduce the number of passes over a field. Manage manure to reduce dependence on costly fossil fuel based fertilizers.

Average Fuel Use of Farm Activities in Gallons per Acre
Activity Gasoline Diesel
Plow 8 inches deep 2.35 1.68
Chisel plow 1.54 1.10
Cultivate field 0.84 0.60
Planting row crops 0.70 0.50
No-till planter 0.49 0.35
Combine 2.24 1.60
Baler 0.63 0.45
Sprayer 0.14 0.10
Grain drying 8.4 6.4

Grain Drying

In some situations, more energy is used to dry a crop then to grow it. Planting early maturing corn varieties allows for more time to field-dry the crop. When using a moisture meter to ensure dryness of grain, make sure it is reading correctly by comparing the reading with another meter. If mechanical drying is necessary, use a natural air or low temperature drying system.


Improve housing facilities by insulating and using natural ventilation when possible to reduce energy needs for heating and cooling. Another way to save energy in buildings is to plant a shelter belt of trees along the north side of buildings to reduce the impact of cold winter winds and therefore reduce heating costs. When constructing farm buildings place large doorways facing south so as not too loose too much heat in the winter months. An alternative heating source for farm buildings is a waste oil heater that burns used oil from farmyard machinery. Keep ventilation fans in livestock housing clean of dust so they will run efficiently and last longer. Large diameter fans are more efficient than small ones. Designing buildings to use natural ventilation is the best case scenario because this requires no energy. Compact fluorescent lighting can be installed in barns and in other areas of the farm to reduce the electric bill. For lighting large areas, a high intensity discharge lamp or metal halide lamp is most efficient. Keep in mind that compact fluorescent bulbs used in livestock housing areas must have a covering. Implementing timers, daylight sensors, or motion sensors will insure that lights are only on when they need to be.

Watering Systems

Irrigation and livestock watering systems can be designed to use less energy. Avoid using center-pivot sprinklers because they require a high flow rate of water and a large electric motor to operate. Using evapotranspiration (ET) based irrigation scheduling will result in the appropriate amount of water applied for crop growth. Make sure that livestock waterers are properly insulated and the right size for the number of animals on the farm. Unplug them when the heater is no longer needed.

Electric Fencing

Where appropriate, solar electric fence chargers hooked up to a battery can be used to keep fences charged 24hrs a day, year-round. Like any electric fence, brush and grasses must be mowed down so as not to touch the bottom wire.

Other Equipment

Dairy farms have several options for improving the efficiency of their refrigeration and vacuum pumps used for milking. One option is the implementation of a plate cooler which captures the heat leaving the cow’s body as milk and transfers it to cold water, partially cooling the milk before it reaches the storage tank. This can reduce cooling time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, and the warmed water can help clean milking equipment and clean the barn. A refrigeration heat exchanger is another energy saving device that transfers the excess heat from the milk cooler to preheat water for use in the barn. One more option for use on dairy farms is a Variable Frequency pump or drive which changes the pumps capacity to meet the milking need resulting in energy savings of 50- 80%. It is recommended that Variable Frequency Drives be used for varying loads such as milk pumps, vacuum pumps and ventilation fans. Consult with an energy auditor before making any new ‘energy saving’ purchases to make sure they will be appropriate for your needs.

Funding Energy Improvements

Improving energy efficiency generally requires minimal investment compared to installing new on-farm energy production    systems,    therefore    many    funding opportunities require an audit showing that the farm is currently undertaking energy efficient practices as mentioned in this publication before financing new infrastructure. Since funding opportunities change depending on the political atmosphere, time of year, and with your location, be sure to check with an organization such as the Center for Ecological Technology (CET) ( to find out what your farm may qualify for. If you do install a renewable energy system in the NSTAR, NGRID, WMECO or Unitil service territories, contact their respective net metering department and apply for net metering as soon as possible.

Tax Incentives or financial incentives from your local utility company can help offset the costs of installing energy efficient alternatives on your farm. .


Energy conservation and efficiency on farms is a broad topic and farmers will need to find information from other sources regarding the implementation of specific practices. A list of such sources can be found in the ‘Additional Information’ section of this BMP. As a general guideline follow these steps for improving energy efficiency on the farm.

  1. Use an energy calculator to determine current energy use on the farm.
  2. Conduct an Energy Audit to assess need and viability of energy improvements.
  3. Target energy saving projects and practices to implement on the farm.
  4. Seek Funding (see above and ‘Additional Information’).
  5. Implement your energy conservation plan.
  6. Make sure to conduct energy audits or perform regular maintenance on machinery to ensure efficient and long lasting performance.

Additional Information

‘25 Quick On-Farm Energy Saving Tips’, University of Ontario

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Energy Efficiency, Conservation, and Renewables Program

↳ Contact: Gerry Palano, Renewable Energy Coordinator for MDAR. Email:, Phone: 617-626-1706

Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP)

NRCS/USDA Farm Energy Tools

USDA Rural Energy for America Program

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

Factsheets in this series were prepared by Stephen Herbert, Masoud Hashemi, Carrie Chickering-Sears, and Sarah Weis in collaboration with Jacqui Carlevale and Katie Campbell-Nelson.

This publication has been funded in part by Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources in a grant to the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, Inc. by Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection, s319 Program, USDA-SARE.