Renewable Energy

Getting Resourceful: Soybeans, Grain Dryers, and Energy Efficiency

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The extremely wet weather this fall, coupled with political and economic changes, created an especially difficult harvest season for most soybean producers. On top of low prices, farmers faced severe price docks for high moisture content in their beans. According to the Progressive Farmer, usually beans are docked six to eight cents per bushel for five percent moisture damage. This year, deductions were sharply higher, around $1.80 per bushel. That left farmers with no choice but to dry their beans in grain dryers designed for corn.

We called up Chad Martin, energy auditor, to talk about the effects these unusual circumstances had on on-farm energy usage. Chad is a from a fifth-generation family farm in Cass County and has 12 years of experience as an energy auditor at Purdue University.

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1.       Thanks for talking with us, Chad. Okay, first thing’s first. Exactly what is an energy audit?

Sure. An energy audit is a comparison of the documented performance of an existing dryer to a prediction of what the performance of a new one will be. It takes into account your energy prices and eliminate growing season variables from year to year. It also considers upkeep and maintenance on the equipment. An energy auditor gives you an unbiased third-party view of the cost and energy savings that could come with a new dryer.

2.       What other types of energy audits do you do?

I’ve done audits on lighting system upgrades when people switch to LED, several audits for swine buildings and dairy farms… The challenge there is that dairy prices are so low that it’s hard to make capital improvements. Greenhouse production is another one, but I’d say 85% of the audits I’ve done have been with grain dryers.

 3.       This year, a lot of farmers resorted to drying soybeans. Is this a common practice?

The last time was in 2009, when high moisture in corn was the biggest issue, and a small portion of soybeans were dried, too. We saw older dryers sit empty during the previous drought year in 2008, then used to their maximum in the 2009 rainy year. That brought a lot of hidden efficiency problems to the forefront for farmers. So that was the first wave of energy audits we did for the USDA REAP grants. We partnered up with Prosperity on several REAP grants a few years later.

4.       What impact does it have on dryer efficiency?

The dryers are being used for something they’re not designed to do, so they won’t be as efficient. Drying soybeans requires a lower temperature because you’re drying them down two to four percentage points of moisture, not 15 to 20 percent for corn. You’re also running a smaller amount of beans through the dryer at one time, so high capacity dryers have a higher of risk of splitting the beans from agitation. That means a lower-quality bean, which means another price dock. Some farmers have tried in-bin drying their beans as an alternative.

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 5.       What’s on the horizon for grain dryer efficiency?

The biggest development is real-time monitoring that gives you data you can access on your phone or iPad. Once we know the historical record over the past two or three years, that data tells us where things can be improved or areas for maintenance. Sensors in dryer are getting more sophisticated, and data analytics can be used on different types of hybrids. That means you can make improvements without getting a whole new dryer.

 As farms get larger, they’re adding not just one but two or three combines so they can get the crops out quicker. They need a dryer that keeps up but maintains its efficiency, especially with spikes in energy. Utility companies are starting to treat farms as small manufacturers. Since all the farms in the area are using their dryers too, they’re hit with demand charges. So we’re becoming more mindful of how we manage electricity. VFDs (Variable Frequency Drives) help motors mitigate those demand charges by running dryers at off-peak times to reduce costs.

 6.       Is renewable energy becoming more of an option with grain dryers?

Renewable energy with drying is a challenge. Dryers only operate two or three months out of year, and sometimes not at all, so it’s hard to justify the capital investment. Solar is much better suited for a dairy or hog operation because the energy usage variations are more steady and predictable.


 A big thanks to Chad for taking the time to talk with us. If you’d like more information about energy audits, you can reach Chad at 765-586-0860 or cmartin.energyservices@gmail.com. If you have questions about funding for your energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, you can reach us here.




How Sustainable is Your Community?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

The term “sustainable city” has been thrown around quite a bit in recent years. Though each region likely has their own definition of a sustainable community, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), uses the term “sustainable communities” to describe places “where use of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not up; where the air and waterways are accessible and clean; where land is used efficiently and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and easily visited; where people of different ages, income levels and cultural backgrounds share equally in environmental, social and cultural benefits; where many needs of daily life can be met within a 20-minute walk and all may be met within a 20-minute transit ride; where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices.

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Sustainable Communities 

"Where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices." -NRDC

The community described above seems idyllic, however, it is also very hard to achieve. Communities might have a goal of becoming completely sustainable, but funding is a large barrier preventing implementation. Taking small steps each year towards sustainability can be an easier approach while keeping costs reasonable. Further, communities that meet challenges through integrated solutions rather than fragmented approaches while looking at the long term will be more successful. This means it is essential for communities to have an end-goal and a plan in place prior to taking any steps towards sustainability. Having citizen involvement in early-stage planning will also be important for success.

Communities aiming for sustainability can utilize grant and loan programs to achieve their goals. Opportunities abound for projects such as community gardens, integration of renewable energy, wastewater efficiency improvements, building new community facilities, and many more. Further, programs exist to help communities achieve their sustainability goals. Audubon International has a Sustainable Communities Program, which is a science-based, third-party certification program to guide communities through the journey to become healthy and vibrant places to love work and play.

Sustainability is a process that is continuously evolving to meet goals. Communities that embrace this process as part of their overall goal and begin to implement sustainability, they will see a power and positive effect on the quality of life and the future of the community.

Prosperity Ag works with rural communities to become more sustainable. Learn more by downloading our overview of popular funding programs for rural communities.

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Going Blue in Rural Communities

Karen DuVall, Prosperity Ag Director of Grant Operations

You know what they say about the weather here in Indiana? If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it’ll change.

Indiana and much of the Midwest has suffered severe flooding recently. My hometown of Buffalo in northwest Indiana has a population of about 700. When the Tippecanoe River flooded and residents needed to evacuate, neighbors banded together and helped each other out. People volunteered their trucks, tractors, and boats to assist first responders with evacuation efforts. They offer their time, money, and talents to donate meals and supplies. Fortunately, my hometown isn’t unique. Across the country, people in rural areas, small towns, and cities rally together during emergencies to help their communities.

After the initial disaster subsides, residents return to their homes to begin rebuilding. Communities have also suffered major flood damage to their roads and infrastructure.  On top of that, many rural communities are already struggling to improve aging and limited water and waste treatment infrastructure.

At times, opportunities may arise out of crises. According to the Smithsonian, cities around the world are experimenting with going Blue. Most people are familiar with the idea of Going Green, which is focused on reducing the environmental impact created by cities and investing in renewable energy. Smart Cities (making cities more responsive and connected) is another widely accepted concept. “Blue Cities” is the idea that communities should be designed to work with existing water-flow patterns instead of trying to alter them. Cutting edge concepts include a buoyant parking garage in Denmark and floating solar panels in Bahrain. After Hurricane Katrina, Old River Landing in Louisiana used traditional building techniques from the Bayou to develop floating amphibious housing.

Most of these examples are large-scale projects in cities, but this led me to wonder how this technology could be used in rural areas. How can we take some of these futuristic concepts and scale them down to work for small towns and farms? How are we better positioned to use less-populated watersheds and rivers? It’s predicted that the Midwest will see more extreme weather, including record-breaking heat, cold, flooding, droughts, and storms. Now is the time to prepare by investing in Blue technologies on our own terms.

Whether you represent rural government, manage a construction company with an outside-of-the-box idea, or want to improve your energy efficiency, Prosperity Ag is here to help you. We take the mystery out of grants so you find funding. Click here to find out more.