Heres a new scheme thats bursting with energy ideas. Tia Rund reports.
WHETHER you applaud or resent the notion of producer protocols, the requirement for an energy audit is one aspect where theres scope for some payback for your business.
Engineer Andrew Kneeshaw, of the Farm Energy Centre (FEC), explains. "Growers have had their hands forced by retailer protocols. With conservation measures, for example, they see very little else but money going out. But, by looking closely at energy efficiencies, its not uncommon to knock between £300 and £500 off the farms annual energy bill."
Until now growers keen to comply with buyers energy efficiency outlines would mostly have referred to a consultant, says Mr Kneeshaw. But these tend to be energy specialists with little experience in farm situations or, conversely, experts on farming with no great depth of knowledge on energy matters, he adds. "As a result audits have tended to be rather piecemeal and ad hoc."
The protocols themselves dont offer much guidance. "Its certainly worth referring to the sections of Tescos Natures Choice and LEAF protocols relating to energy efficiency. But they do tend to skirt round the issue. They beg a lot of questions but dont give many of the answers."
The FEC has responded to this situation by devising from scratch its own audit scheme, aimed initially at the potato and vegetable sector. The package comprises a range of pick n mix modules – such as the store, the packhouse and the greenhouse, but also field equipment and a general section covering heating, lighting and energy recording, for example.
Each module comprises a checklist with guidance notes to steer the user methodically through a structured self audit process to produce a customised action plan. "The main objective," explains Mr Kneeshaw, "is that each area is at least considered. The mere act of doing this should flush out the most serious problem areas and show where remedial action needs to be taken.
"Simple controls and fitting changes can add up to make quite considerable energy savings – for example time switches, thermostatic controls on heating systems and proximity controls to trigger lighting only when someone is in the area."
Draught proofing of refrigerated buildings – brush seals on doors and foam filling of any gaps in the structure – is another measure which wont cost much but can make a big difference, he adds. Air leakage is a significant source of energy loss.
Other measures can involve quite a high capital cost to implement, but reduce operating costs. For example, electronically controlled expansion valves on refrigeration equipment meter refrigerant more accurately than their cheaper mechanical counterparts, giving closer control of the evaporative temperature and therefore more efficient energy use.
"The extra investment might be £500 to £1,000 for the valve and associated equipment, but over its lifetime, you would see a handsome payback," notes Mr Kneeshaw.
"You really need to look at the energy consequences of new equipment over a three to five year period," notes Mr Kneeshaw. But often the primary efficiency of a system is one of the last things to be considered, he adds.
"When you employ a consultant to audit your energy use for you, the temptation might be to read the report and then leave it on the shelf. The value of immersing yourself in this DIY audit is that youre more likely to follow through with what needs to happen as a result," Mr Kneeshaw points out.
There is help and support available, though. The Energy Efficiency Reference Folder delves deeper into specific areas and has been compiled to cross refer with the audit document. It costs another £30 on top of the £40 which covers the scheme document, registration and a years subscription to the Farm Energy Update bulletin.
If you still want someone to do the job for you, or to remedy specific problems revealed by your own audit, an in-depth farm consultancy by an FEC engineer with written report and recommendations will cost around £400.
For packing groups, another option is for a single reference folder to be held centrally, with someone from the packers coordinating on behalf of members.
This is the role being adopted by Richard Mowbray, technologist for T A Smith & Co of Croft near Skegness, which markets about 800ha (2,000 acres) of brassicas, grown on its own farm, on rented land or on commission.
The company, together with A * Worth, another Lincolnshire enterprise, was involved with the FEC scheme from the outset, helping to mould it into something practical and appropriate. Their farm is one of about 40 to have gone through the audit process so far.
"Its been very much a thought provoking exercise," says Mr Mowbray. "And it shows that youre thinking: protocols and ICM are as much about demonstrating compliance as anything."
As a result of the audit, he has started to look closer at energy usage, compiling monthly usage records. It also revealed immediately several areas of loss, such as one door in the cold store which was left open more than the others, which is now curtained.
"The scheme really comes into its own when you come to replace equipment. Its important then to consider a products expected life, even for something as simple as lights. Halogen lights may be cheaper, but they dont last as long as more energy efficient sodium ones. Equally, the newer type of infra red heaters are more efficient than gas burners."
Anyone can benefit from the scheme, believes Mr Mowbray, not just those chasing retailer partnerships. "Farms of more than 500 acres, particularly those with high energy use, could make substantial cost savings, especially when buying machinery," he says.
Although the Natures Choice protocol was the prompt for the scheme, it will soon be broadened to encompass arable operations. "Theres plenty to talk about on the cereal side," says Mr Kneeshaw. "The area of grain drying is one where theres often a lot of energy wasted.
"Therell also be an irrigation module, although operationally its difficult to find much room for improvement. Its more about selecting the right equipment in the first place.
"Weve also received feedback asking for more guidance in the workshop area."