Alternative Energy - A Growing Farm Trend

Alternative Energy - A Growing Farm Trend


Energy independence, alternative energy, renewable energy resources; these are the buzzwords of the modern farm. More and more farmers and ranchers are looking at alternative ways to power their homes, their barns, their equipment and other critical farm systems. From solar power to wind farms, savvy farmers and homesteaders have come to understand that upfront costs, over the life of a farm, bring returns well worth the investment.

For a homeowner in modern Suburbia, the idea of investing $20,000 to convert an existing house to solar might bring more than a few raised eyebrows. This is mostly due to the short-term return on investment most homeowners focus on when making such decisions. For example, if a $20,000 project only saved $200 a month on utilities, it would take the homeowner nearly nine years to break even. To a homeowner, that’s a long time to get back the investment.

Farmers, however, look further into the future then the average homeowner, at least in terms of returns on improvement projects. Add to that the issue of farm income and a farmer can realize a faster return on their investment. Organic, low-carbon products bring a higher market price then industrialized farm products. The increased profit combined with savings on utilities gives the average farmer a double-whammie, in terms of conversions paying for themselves.

Not all alternative energy improvements equate to a faster return for farmers, but the odds are typically stacked in the farmer’s favor. Alternative energy doesn’t have to mean fancy equipment or huge investments. For example, we’re building a new barn on our farm. Our plan is to go solar-only.

The cost difference? Only about $2,500-3,000 in initial building costs. We’re saving the cost of having an electrician tap into our current power system. (To tap into the power pole, we have to use a certified electrician for inspection purposes, as opposed to installing the solar system ourselves.) That savings helps to pay for the solar system. By our estimates, it will take roughly two to three years for the solar system to pay for itself the rest of the way. After those first few years, the barn will operate at full power, with no additional utility costs. Not a bad rate of return, in my book.

For more options on alternative energy for farmers, the USDA has a wealth of information on everything from biofuels to wind power.