Energy $avings... State program helped farmers reduce costsPosted on Mar 5, 2012
Cumberland County poultry producer Doug Lewis stands on a hill overlooking the eight chicken houses on his farm.
It is early February and Cumberland County farmer Doug Lewis has just received a shipment of about 107,000 baby chicks from Equity Group of Kentucky. While the temperature hovers in the 30s and 40s outside, the chicks inside his eight, 40-by-500-foot buildings bask in 92-degree heat. Lewis will drop the temperature about a degree per day during the production process. But in the meantime, those chickens are requiring a whole lot of energy to grow. High energy costs have poultry producers like Lewis, as well as other farmers, looking to take advantage of programs providing incentives to cut energy use. For the last several years, the poultry industry has been at the top of the list in agricultural receipts in the state, earning more than $900 million per year. It is also one of the most energy-intensive farm enterprises. From 2009-2011, farmers were eligible for cost-share dollars from Federal stimulus funds for new equipment, insulation and other improvements to cut energy costs. The $1.4 million in federal dollars helped pay for 190 on-farm energy saving projects across the state and saved farmers approximately $2 million in energy costs per year, according to the Governor’s Office for Agricultural Policy (GOAP). The funds paid for energy audits, new building components, on-farm energy upgrades and on-farm energy efficiency training. Lewis took advantage of the program to buy $40,000 worth of energy-saving appliances for his chicken houses. He was reimbursed $10,000 of the cost. He bought new tunnel doors to his poultry houses that replaced the curtains he had used. The tunnel doors provide a tighter seal, keeping the buildings warmer in winter. He also bought 52-inch fans, at $1,000 each, for his eight houses. The fans move air better than his previous equipment, keeping the buildings cooler in summer. An audit of Lewis’ energy use showed he can expect to save about $10,000 in energy costs with the new equipment. “I probably don’t keep track of it as well as I should,” Lewis said. “But I know it’s much more efficient. Those doors just seal better and keep the heat in better. And those fans can move a whole lot more air.” With the federal stimulus funds running out at the end of last year, the Kentucky Ag Development Board stepped up with $2 million to carry the On-farm Energy Efficiency and Production Incentives Program forward. The program will pay farmers up to 25 percent of the cost of on-farm energy-saving upgrades and installations up to $10,000. The program takes applications, which are reviewed quarterly, and the first quarterly deadline is April 30 (See box for details). Roger Thomas, executive director of GOAP, said energy savings have significant potential to help all farmers’ bottom lines. “Over the last several years reducing energy usage and developing alternative sources of energy have become critical for Kentucky agriculture,” Thomas said. Lewis, who took to poultry production after careers as a store manager, truck driver and barber, has his chicken houses on land that originally belonged to his grandfather. He and his wife, Flo, live in a house built in 1818 near Allen Creek. Lewis raises a batch of about 107,000 broilers five or six times a year for Equity Group of Kentucky, which supplies the feed and chicks. He provides the land and buildings, water and energy to heat or cool the buildings. With energy providing a large chunk of his inputs, Lewis works hard to find ways to cut costs. Besides the tunnel doors and new, larger fans, Lewis has installed new heating systems in three of the buildings that use furnaces capable of burning wood pellets. Lewis hires a truck drive to deliver wood pellets made out of waste wood from Southern Kentucky Hardwood and Flooring in Gamaliel. He spends about $3,000 per load of wood pellets, but he saves about 75 percent over the cost of gas to heat the buildings. Lewis said the furnaces, made in Alabama, also come with ductwork that puts the heat closer to the chicks and keeps the litter drier. That reduces losses at the processing plant, he said. “If chickens stand around in wet litter, they can get blisters on their feet,” Lewis said. “If a chicken has a blister on its foot larger than a dime, it is rejected on the processing line. So if the air is better and the litter is drier, the chickens do better.” Lewis is also using waste products to offset costs. A farmer in Franklin pays him for his litter, which is spread as fertilizer on corn and soybean fields. The sale of fertilizer helps offset the cost of shavings, Lewis said. He also makes compost of the chickens that die on the farm and sells that for fertilizer. Lewis said last year he sold $50,000 worth of chicken litter and compost for fertilizer. “I tell you, there’s nothing that goes to waste around here,” he said.