Technology upgrades cut costs
Dairymen report saving tens of thousands of dollars
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE, Idaho -- Faced with tough economic times, Idaho dairies are increasingly seeking heating, lighting and other efficiencies to trim costs.
The Idaho industry has shed about $640 million in equity since 2009, according to the Idaho Dairymen's Association.
During the recent Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Boise, Idaho dairy producers and representatives shared how they and others have cut their energy costs by trimming their electrical use, updating or replacing lighting and equipment, and adding alternative energy sources to their portfolio.
"It's been a tough time for the industry the last couple of years. We're looking to save every dime we can," said Tony Vander Hulst, of Westpoint Dairy.
Westpoint, which milks 5,500 head of cows near Wendell, replaced all of its 400-watt light bulbs, which will save the operation an estimated $10,000 annually.
"The difference it made was tremendous," Vander Hulst said. "We saw a savings on our electrical bill immediately."
The operation also retired three vacuum pumps it uses to milk cows and replaced them with pumps with variable speed drives. Vander Hulst said the two projects together will save the dairy an estimated $40,000 a year.
Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese, which milks about 100 cows near Gooding, expects to save $15,000 a year by using heat pumps instead of propane to both cool and heat milk as it makes its way through the cheese-making process.
The system will also be used to heat and cool the operation's main building, increasing the dairy's efficiency.
That project will include a solar system that uses tubes instead of panels so they don't have to be rotated to capture the sun's energy.
Owner Steve Ballard expects to reduce his dairy's propane use by 70 percent. Because the new system will cool milk faster, "the speed we produce milk and cheese will increase. There are a lot of benefits we are going to reap by doing this project."
A new lighting system that includes LED lights and motion sensors will save the dairy about $3,700 a year.
After factoring in government incentives and Idaho Power rebates, the total cost of these and some other smaller projects is $122,000, which Ballard expects to pay off in 6.5 years.
Together, Ballard hopes the projects will reduce the dairy's cost of producing cheese from 31 cents to 10 cents per pound.
"If we can get it down to 10 cents a pound, it's going to be a huge improvement for us," he said.
Jeremiah Higley of Automated Dairy Systems said the areas with the most potential to save dairies money through efficiency are lighting, milk cooling, ventilation and vacuum pumps.
Because most dairies run around the clock, "the efficiencies that can be gained are very significant," he said.
Because most dairy equipment runs 24/7, he added, the upgrades usually pay back within five years.