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The results may surprise you

A pilot project in Saskatchewan is evaluating energy use on farms in a way it’s never been looked at before. The Sun Ridge Group of Saskatoon has developed an energy evaluation program that puts actual numbers to major energy inputs related to production, including the energy to produce fertilizer, chemicals, purchased and produced feed, and fuel.

Surprisingly, some of their early audits show beef production consuming more energy than crops in some instances.

“So far, the size of the sampling is too small for the company to make generalizations or identify trends,” says project manager Val Sutton. The goal of the pilot is to evaluate 200 grain, mixed and livestock farms (not intensive livestock operations) and generate benchmark ratings for each crop district and the province.

Producers who participate in the pilot project receive a report on energy consumption in their own operation and the benchmark free of charge, which should identify where they can save on energy without giving up production, or increase production on the same amount of energy.

Sun Ridge Group has been doing EnerGuide audits on homes since 1999. It developed the farm evaluation program with funding from the province, and 27 were completed by the end of January. Seven were forwarded to us for a sneak preview of what a farm energy evaluation looks like.

Rating energy use

An evaluation looks at the last three years of data on fuel and fertilizer purchases, acres in production, pesticide and herbicide applications, purchased and home-grown feed consumption, as well as the forage, grain and livestock production on the farm. Non-farm energy consumption — house, yard , personal vehicles, outside custom work

— Is Ignored.

The Prairie Agriculture Machinery Institute (PAMI) provided the energy values for the inputs in “equivalent litres of diesel.” Say, for example, you made a pass over the field to apply 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. For every litre of diesel used in the tractor, you would be putting the energy equivalent of 50 litres of diesel into the ground in the form of fertilizer.

There are two ratings for crops: equivalent litres of diesel per acre (ELDA) and equivalent litres of diesel per tonne (ELDT) produced. The unit of measurement in a livestock operation is equivalent litres of diesel per tonne of livestock produced (ELDL).

Interpretation

From our example, you can see the last column on an evaluation — the energy index — is the total of the energy ratings for each input across the row. The lower the index, the less energy was consumed.

Neither the price of the input nor the value of the commodity produced affects the index. So, even though there is a general assumption that lowering energy consumption reduces costs, the energy evaluation itself is not an indicator of profitability.

For each input, there is a direct correlation between the energy rat-

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