Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Cut your electricity bill by using expensive farm machinery at night and a little common sense

John Donworth

How much money do you pay the ESB each year? I am sure very few of you can find an answer. You pay every two months and that's the end of it.

In any case, you know the farm can't work without it. The one thing you do know for sure is that the bill seems to go up almost every year.

It's a well-known fact that virtually all costs are rising each year on dairy farms. However, tackling them is proving extremely difficult. If you want to tackle rising ESB costs, then the first thing you have to do is find out what it actually costs you to milk the cows and cool a litre of milk.

Looking at Profit Monitor data, electricity costs on dairy farms work out at, on average, 0.5c/l of milk. In other words, for a cow producing 5,000l of milk, the cost burden on the cow is €25. With total production costs today approaching €1,000 per cow, getting excited about a cost that's only 2.5pc of the total bill for the cow is hardly worth bothering about. But, like most things in life, mind the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

Suppliers of services to farmers need to be constantly challenged on what they charge for these services. Otherwise, they will charge what the market will bear and, before you know it, 0.5c/l will become 1c/l.


Incidentally, €25 per cow works out at €2,500 for a 100-cow herd. John Upton from Moorepark has done research on energy costs on dairy farms since January 2009. He initially looked at three Teagasc research farms. The cost of paying for electricity on these farms was 0.6c/l or €30 per cow for 5,000l of milk.

The figures from the three Teagasc farms showed milk cooling was the single largest consumer of electricity. It consumed 32pc of the total cost, followed by water heating (21pc), vacuum pumps (19pc) and lighting (18pc). Other items such as wash pumps, milk pumps, feed augers and air compressors made up the balance (5pc). Milk production data was also collected which allowed electricity costs to be calculated. The figures across the three research farms varied from 0.4-0.62c/l – a difference of 36pc.

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The milking machines involved in the audit were 12, 16 and 20-unit machines, with an approximate herd size of 100 cows.

Each of the plants was hot-washed once a day. The data revealed that the bulk tank and provision of hot water accounted for nearly 60pc of electricity charges.

The only surprising figure was that the light bill, at 18pc, was as high as the bill for the vacuum pumps.

While I have mentioned that the variation in costs was between 0.4c/l and 0.62c/l, the consumption of electricity per cow milked varied from 3.59kWh/cow/week to 6.7kWh/cow/week, and revealed potential savings 30-40pc could be made.

Mr Upton carried out a similar audit on electricity costs on 21 commercial dairy farms in 2010.

It found that the cost of electricity varied between 0.23-0.67c/l. In other words, it varied from €11.50/cow to €33.50 per cow, for a cow producing 5,000 litres. Again, the big culprits were milk cooling (40pc), water heating (21pc) and the vacuum pump (20pc).

Drilling down into the data, Mr Upton was able to specify eight areas that may need attention.

They included ice builders on ice bulk tanks which had not been set up properly, with ice making taking place during daytime hours. If you want to make ice, do it at night and save on electricity.


Poor plant cooling was another potential problem. The ratio of milk to water is the critical issue here. The recommended level is at least 1:2 milk to water.

Poor plate cooling means the bulk tank will use more power as it will have to run for longer. Problems arise here because the water infrastructure on the farm does not keep pace with expansion.

Timers on water heaters not set properly or not working are also an issue. Water must be heated when night-rate electricity is available. Night-rate electricity kicks in from 11pm to 8am in winter (late October to late March) and 12pm to 9am in the summer. It costs half the price of the day rate. Take care that a power cut doesn't throw the timer out.

Un-insulated hot water pipes may also need addressing. Water is generally heated to 80C and there is little point in incurring this cost if it drops to 60C before it arrives in the wash trough. Pipes from the heater to the wash trough must be insulated.

Hard water areas can also be a problem as elements can be prone to limescale. This adds to electricity costs. A water softener is a must here.

The list of items I have mentioned above doesn't require much capital expenditure.

Some of them are only common sense. If you don't have night-rate electricity, check it out.

John Donworth is a Teagasc dairy specialist and regional manager in Kerry and Limerick

Irish Independent

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