energy efficiency

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.




There’s a Grant for That. Or is There?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

Grants have been available since the 1800’s when it was required that states be given 5 percent of the net proceeds of land sales within their boundaries, with a percent of these proceeds to be used for “learning” or higher education.  Over the years grants have expanded and are now available for numerous purposes. Grant programs are available through Federal, State and local funding and also through nonprofit organizations.

Over the years working as a grant writer, I have seen grants available for a wide range of projects. This includes some common programs such as after-school care for at risk youth, development of community centers, and preservation of historic locations. However, I have seen my fair share of “unusual” grant programs including solutions for homeless horses in Utah, off-road vehicle safety training, and planning shellfish hatcheries. And yes, those are all real grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

The availability of funding opportunities is constantly changing, which makes is increasingly harder for organization’s to determine what might be available for their needs. Clients typically ask me, “Is there a grant for my project?” The answer is not simple due to the complexity of grants and my answer to clients is usually “It depends.”

There are many factors an applicant must be aware of when they are interested in pursuing grant funding. Below is a quick summary of our top tips for those interested in apply for funding.

Eligibility

The single most important factor of grants involves the applicant’s eligibility. Prior to beginning any work on a grant application, the organization must determine whether they are even an eligible applicant. This can be easily completed by reading through the notices that are published with the grant materials. Many applicants overlook this step and apply anyway with the thought that the granting organization will still want to hear about their project.

Timing

Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of applying for funding revolves around the timing of both the project and the grant program. Many federal and state grants have set due dates, with applications only being accepted during open funding periods. These due dates may not be convenient for the applicant and could even prevent them from applying. Many grant programs do not allow applicants to begin work on their project until after the grant agreement has been signed, usually months after the grant was submitted. Applicants may decide that they want to pursue their project regardless of funds because of the stifling nature of the timing of a program.

Cost match

I cannot tell you how many people tell me they want to apply for “free money.” The truth is that very few grants are really “free.” Grant programs typically have a cost match component involved, which means that the applicant is required to match the grant funds. The amount required varies greatly depending on the grant agency, but I always tell my clients to plan on having to match at least 25% of the grant funds.

With so many available grants, it can quickly become overwhelming for those looking to receive funding. At Prosperity, we strive to inform our clients about the possible funding opportunities available for their project to ensure success. Some clients like to take this one step further and purchase a Funding Search, which a comprehensive, in-depth evaluation of all the possible funding opportunities for their potential projects. Learn more now!

Welcome!

We're excited to kick off Prosperity Ag's blog. Our team members here at Prosperity are looking forward to sharing their perspectives on subjects like renewable energy and energy efficiency, local foods and sustainable farming, and anything else affecting rural communities. We would love to hear your feedback. Let's get the conversation started!