Grants help farmers cut energy costs

01 Jun, 2018 10:03 AM
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Close to $100,000 in funding helped these farmers implement initiatives ..

Dairyfarmers around Australia have used grants to install new equipment in the dairy to help cut energy costs.

Last year Lion and Landcare Australia awarded grants to 10 Lion suppliers to help them improve sustainability on their farms.

Close to $100,000 in funding helped these farmers implement initiatives including increased use of solar power, installation of energy-saving equipment, recycling of wastewater and revegetation projects.

One popular initiative across a number of grant recipients was the installation of heat-recovery systems, which reuse heat from milk-cooling systems to heat water for cleaning and sterilising.

Variable speed drives were also deemed successful in reducing energy use as they adjust speed and power consumption to meet the varying demands of milking.

As well as energy-saving benefits, the drives make dairy sheds quieter and calmer places to work, as well as reducing maintenance costs.

Ryan family

Almost $100,000 in funding helped these farmers implement initiatives including increased use of solar power, installation of energy-saving equipment, recycling of wastewater and revegetation projects.

The Ryan family, who milk 850 cows on 347 hectares in Victoria's Goulburn Valley, used the grant to replace their dairy's vacuum pumps with variable speed drive pumps.

Sandra Ryan, who manages the farm, said the farm's original system of two 10-year-old oil-operated vacuum pumps was highly inefficient as the motor used to drive the pump ran at a consistently high speed, regardless of the number of cows being milked.

She estimated that 80 per cent of the farm’s energy use sat with operating the two pumps.

Not only did the pumps require a lot of energy to run, they had to be run during peak times when electricity costs were the highest, Ms Ryan said.

Replacing the old pumps with a system that was more efficient was a vital next step in the implementation of a sustainable operation.

Ms Ryan said the family explored alternatives and decided a VSD unit that adjusted power consumption to meet demand during milking.

Only one VSD was needed to replace the two old pumps, another energy-saving measure.

Unlike the oil-operated pumps that created significant waste oil - an environmental and contamination risk - the VDS did not create waste.

The VSD also solved another issue in the cowshed by making it a quieter and more comfortable place to work.

The old pumps created a significant amount of noise that meant staff had to yell to hear one another creating an environment that was stressful for the cows and unpleasant to work in.

Once they found the grant online, Ms Ryan said as part of the grant application process, the family needed to examine their energy usage over time.

Since replacing the pumps seven months ago the Ryans estimate they have already cut energy consumption by 10 per cent compared with the seven months before installation.

They expect to see further savings as they factor in an entire year.

There was some additional cost-savings in reduced oil and maintenance cost, as well as a significant environmental benefit as the older pumps blew out 200 litres waste oil annually.

As for the noise, Ms Ryan said the dairy shed was quieter and calmer, a really big tick in justifying the upgrade, which benefits both employees and the herd.

Graham family

The Graham family, who milk 400 Aussie Red cows on the NSW coast, installed a heat exchange system in the dairy to help reduce energy use in the face of rising electricity prices.

“Costs including wages and electricity, even grain prices, are going up so there is more and more of a squeeze on the income we derive from dairy,” Sam Graham said.

The Grahams looked at their existing infrastructure to see where savings could be made.

One of the systems operating in the shed was the gas-powered cooling unit that chilled water that was passed through plates to cool the milk.

The second was the hot water element used to boil the water needed to clean down and sterilise equipment to ensure milk was not contaminated.

Both were vital for the operation but also expensive to run.

After reading about Lion Dairy Pride Landcare Grants online, Mr Graham approached his Lion representative to find out more.

His plan was the grant would allow him to invest in the equipment needed to upgrade and convert the heat energy.

“Leading into the grant application, I researched different systems that would work and could see there would be a real benefit for the operation,” he said.

“Following our successful grant application, I installed the new system in the dairy and we are really happy with the result.”

The gas used to cool the water, which in turn cools the milk, is recaptured to heat the cleaning system water up to 60 or 70 degrees, which is then using it to wash down the plant equipment.

“While the cows are out eating grass, the new exchange system is using the heat from the cooling unit to heat the water so it is ready for the next milking,” Mr Graham said.

The Grahams used the grant to help buy a 1000-litre vat to hold the hot water and an exchange system to capture the gas heat and divert the water into the vat system.

Maier family

Charlie and Elisabeth Maier also used the grant to upgrade to VSD pumps on their Atherton Tablelands farm.

The Maiers, who moved to Australia from Germany in 2001 to start up a new dairy, milk 160 to 170 Friesians.

They recently built a new dairy shed fitted out with energy efficient equipment so they can farm in a more sustainable way.

“Power prices are going up and up, and milk prices fluctuate as we are price takers not makers,” Mr Maier said.

One piece of equipment to be replaced was the ageing motor and vacuum pump system.

The Maiers also decided to install a more energy efficient way to heat the 500 litres of hot water that was used daily to clean down and sterilise the shed equipment.

The Maiers decided to apply for funding from the Lion Landcare program to cover the costs of the new equipment.

“We had heard about variable speed drives and heat recovery systems in the past so we were confident they would have an impact in cutting our power bills,” Mr Maier said.

The Maiers installed a system to capture the heat generated by the refrigeration units to warm the water to be used to clean and sterilise the milking equipment and vats.

“We get hot water pretty much for free," Mr Maier said.

Although the VSD has only been operating for a short time, the Maiers said they expected the system to pay for itself and they expect to see savings from both the VSD and heat capture system over a 12-month period

“I attended a workshop a few years ago when I first heard about the variable speed drive and was told the system could pay for itself within two or three years,” he said.

The Maiers also have found the VSD has been much quieter to run making it more comfortable for them and the cows in the dairy shed.

“The variable speed drive is quieter and extends the life of the motor as it doesn’t rev as hard as the older system,” he said.

Lion scheme

Lion agriculture procurement director Murray Jeffrey was excited to see the on-farm results the program has delivered.

“We are really proud to be partnering with Landcare to offer our farmers the tools and resources to address some of the ongoing environmental challenges in the dairy industry," he said.

"The Lion Dairy Pride Landcare Grants Program attracted some fantastic entries last year and a number of successful projects were funded.

“We were really encouraged to see that the projects achieved some great environmental outcomes with many of them also delivering sustainable cost reductions too.”

Landcare Australia acting CEO, Shane Norrish, said he was pleased to be able to help support farmers to run more sustainable operations.

“I am delighted that through our partnership with Lion, we continue to be able to support projects that make a tangible difference to the sustainability of farm businesses in Australia," he said.

"We’re well aware of the increasing challenges that farmers face and welcome any opportunity to help them balance their production requirements with the need to farm sustainability.”

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