Real-Time Energy Monitoring Program to Promote Energy Conservation in Horticultural Enterprises
Posted: August 4, 2011
It is a research and extension priority within the Penn State College of Agriculture to facilitate the development of energy efficient farm practices as well as reduce food miles and the carbon footprints of local Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic region farms. Their philosophy follows that by providing a method with which to identify areas that need improvement in efficiency and implementing fuel energy-saving measures, costs of production will stabilize and cost savings will inevitably be passed on to consumers.
A handful of farms in the Mid-Atlantic region are the focus of one such specialty crop initiative that aims to address these priorities by providing innovative programming to improve the energy efficiency of horticultural industries. This initiative focuses on four energy intensive horticultural operations: irrigation of nursery crops; farm markets/storages; greenhouses; and fruit packing/storage facilities. Despite the development of new energy-saving products and techniques, many agricultural operations retain older energy-hog technologies, due to cost. For example, the newly designed micro-drip irrigation system saves water and additional energy usage by preventing waste through evaporation, but it has not yet been universally implemented because the cost of replacing old irrigation systems is very high.
The objective of this horticultural energy efficiency monitoring project involves the installation of energy monitoring equipment on several different farms in different regions of Pennsylvania. Several farms involved with this project are Bear Mountain Orchards in Adams County, Octoraro Nursery and Kauffman Cider Mill in Lancaster County, and Yarnick’s Farm Center. Penn State installed energy monitoring sensors to cold storage, irrigation and cider press facilities to monitor energy usage in order to determine the best options for more energy efficient practices. The information gathered from the energy monitoring equipment at Bear Mountain Orchards, specifically, will serve as a management tool for their controlled atmosphere storage center and the 50 plus growers who rent space from the storage center, as well as serve as an educational tool for other growers. The energy efficiency monitors will be installed for other production practices at the other farms, serving as educational and management tools in their own category of horticultural production.
Even though it is still in its beginning stages, the project, called the Horticultural Energy Efficiency Project, is expected to positively affect agricultural profitability and sustainability by reducing electricity and fossil fuel consumption and increase the use of energy efficient equipment and technology capable of harnessing renewable energy resources. By monitoring energy usage, farm operators will become more cognizant of the amount of energy wasted in each task of production and will therefore be able to modify their methods to reduce excess energy consumption.
Before this project even began, some farming operations experimented with their own energy-saving innovations, many of which could easily be emulated in other farming operations. Beechwood Orchards uses skylights in their pole barn to reduce the need for artificial lighting, cutting their electricity use by a significant amount. McCleaf Orchards installed solar panels to offset energy needs from their cold storage. Rice Fruit Company has begun to experiment with a green roof on their controlled atmosphere storage, where they establish succulent plants on the roof for insulation purposes as well as controlling the water runoff. The Horticultural Energy Efficiency Online Monitoring Project aims to propagate information about these and other energy-efficient practices as well as educate agricultural operations on how to cut energy expenditures down to cut the cost of production.
This proposed initiative will be the foundation for the development of energy efficiency and clean energy application in agricultural operations, helping to fulfill Penn State’s goals of increasing economic, environmental, and social sustainability in agricultural systems and providing a path for the future of energy efficient farming. With the help of this real-time monitoring system, growers can more accurately apply their energies to the tasks at hand, thereby decreasing overall energy consumption.
Community and agricultural leaders recently held a second Ag Innovations Summit to explore ways to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within rural Adams County and encourage novel approaches to securing the future of agriculture. One of the outcomes of these summits has been “Spotlight on Agriculture” events and news articles (like this one!) to highlight innovation in the variety of farm enterprises that we have in the county. Beginning in August, we will provide opportunities for community members to visit innovative agricultural operations.
Amelia Jarvinen is an Ag Innovations Program Assistant at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to Affirmative Action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 717-334-6271 or 1-888-427-0261, e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu.