Farm Ireland

Wednesday 16 January 2019

How to reduce energy costs on your dairy farm

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Dairy farm businesses are under increasing pressure to become more energy efficient.

The main driver of energy consumption on dairy farms are milk cooling, the milking machine and water heating, with milk cooling alone contributing over 30pc to your electricity bill every month, according to a survey carried out by Teagasc on 60 commercial farms in 2017.

In these areas there is huge scope for energy savings explained John Upton from Teagasc, speaking at the Energy in Agriculture in Gurteen College, Co Tipperary.

“Electricity costs vary from €15 to €45 per cow per year, depending on the energy efficiency adapted on the farm,” said the Dairy Research Technician from Moorepark.

“Another way of putting it, is it costs between €5 and €10 for every 1000 litres produced on your farm.

Cutting Costs

The first steps every farmer should take to improve efficiency is to identify the main consumers of electricity, John explained.

“Record consumption, collect data from bills, read meters regularly, then you can take the steps based on this to reduce costs,” said John.

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“The next step is to move to the cheapest supplier of electricity, this could save up to €900 on a 100-cow dairy farm within a year,” he said.

“Anyone can easily check this online on, enter a few details and they’ll tell you how much you can save,” he said, adding that this measure can be taken for both farming businesses and domestic housing.

“Installing a plate cooler in your dairy unit is the number one way to improve energy efficiency,” said John. T

he milk will be cooled to 5°C above the temperature of the water, before it enters the bulk tank, considerably reducing the amount of energy it will take to cool the milk below 4°C in the bulk tank. Installing a milk cooler costs €3,200 and has an annual saving of €1000, with a 3-year payback return John says.

“A 120-cow dairy herd an install a plate-cooler and expect a 4-year payback with no grant,” he said.

He also added that the milk:water ratio flowing through the plate cooler should be 1:2, which can be regulated using a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) on the vacuum pumps.

“If a unit falls off in the parlour the speed can be increased to keep the machine running, but it can also reduce the speed when all the clusters are hanging in the parlour,” explained John.

“There is also a 40pc SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) grant available to farmers installing a Variable Speed Drive,” he said at the event held in Gurteen College.

Another measure that can be taken is installing a heat recovery system, in addition to pre-cooling, which costs €3,500, with an annual saving of €350, he says.

Stressing that each farm should be evaluated for energy saving on an individual basis he said that larger farms may see the returns faster than smaller farms and that this should be considered when changing any equipment to save costs.

“Money payback, cow numbers, TAMS eligibility and the age of the farmer are all things that should be looked at when making any big investment for energy savings,” said John.

There is also a support tool for dairy farmers called the Dairy Energy Decision Support Tool, that is free for farmers to use and assess their options online.

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