The Need for Energy Efficiency in Agriculture

By Emily Folk

If the average shopper could see beyond their supermarket to the true scale of their consumption, it would surprise them. They're accustomed to convenience, neatly organized rows of produce and packaged deli meats that don't reflect the resources that went into their production.

It's simple enough to search through a crate of ripe tomatoes or pick up a bag of lettuce for a simple side dish, but this effortless browsing comes at a high price, and not at the register. To offer consumers the selection they've come to expect and depend on, the agriculture industry has to increase output.

Meeting the demands of a growing population takes expansion, and expansion can have detrimental effects on the environment. Farmers, ranchers and other professionals in the industry are well aware of the labor and time that goes into their trade, and they're also aware of the unintended consequences.

While industry, by definition, requires resources, there are ways to mitigate the toll that it takes on the Earth. For agriculture, in particular, the subject of energy efficiency is a pressing issue and one that every participant — from the consumer to the producer — needs to address.

Alternative Energy

Sustaining an irrigation system requires power, and traditionally, grid-electricity or propane gas supplies it. With unseasonable weather, a higher frequency of natural disasters and the ever-present threat of climate change, modern practices call for a transition toward renewable energy sources.

Solar pumps promise an alternative to conventional methods of irrigation, drawing on the power of the sun to provide for dry fields. Broad adoption of solar technology would see a significant reduction of the impact of agriculture on the planet, and with all of its benefits, it isn't a hard sell.

Less expensive to manage and maintain, a solar pump completes the same task as its predecessor, but the advantages don't end there. In some situations, farmers can sell the accumulated energy they don't use back to utility companies, diversifying their income with very little additional work.

Application of Big Data

With technology's steady progress, professionals in the agriculture industry have greater access to information. Analytics software allows for greater transparency, allowing farmers and ranchers to determine the most efficient structure for their operation. Incorporating big data into agriculture shows promise.

Regardless of scale, all farms benefit from the use of data. Forecasts of the weather and shifting cloud patterns, updated on the hour, allow professionals to stay ahead of potential problems and seize opportunities. Erratic changes no longer compromise their productivity, properly planned and accounted for.

Beyond the strength of big data for weather management, it also aids researchers in their study of the genetic code of crops. Through extensive development, seed companies can breed varieties that are specific to local environments. These modified seeds require less energy, water and land to grow.

On-Site Transportation

America's agriculture industry has the potential to save over $1 billion per year by incorporating efficient energy savings in irrigation motor systems, lighting energy end-uses and on-site transportation. Sustainability is not only good for the environment as a whole, but for an operation's bottom line.

On the subject of on-site transportation, farmers and ranchers who pay close attention to the expenditure of their equipment can manage it more effectively. Since they depend on their machinery for many of their day-to-day responsibilities, these minor adjustments can add up very quickly.

Simple maintenance is enough to lessen the cost and impact of on-site transportation. Professionals who inflate their tires, perform regular inspections and reduce idling time can ease the wear and tear on their vehicles, minimizing the need for repair and replacements. Proper handling also assists in fuel conservation.

The Future Is Green

It begins with the normalization of sustainable agriculture. With the adoption of new technologies and the adaptation of old practices, modern farmers and ranchers can lessen their negative impact on the planet. Their role is positive, after all, and their standards should reflect that.

Ultimately, energy efficiency doesn't have to present an issue. It can present an opportunity for growth.

About the author: Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.