Everyone knows farms draw a lot of energy to run.
While power costs usually comprise only 2% of farms’ overhead, that’s still $10,000+ annually in costs. There’s significant variation depending on what commodities the land produces. If you raise cattle, that median amount climbs to over $18,000 a year.
Prices for power generation have continued a steady climb, so farms that don’t get more efficient will see those bills rise.
But it’s not just energy efficiency that matters here. It’s also the environmental costs associated with generating power. And since the EPA has targeted a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, there may be additional costs in the future if farm energy is regulated.
That’s why some enterprising farmers are deciding to go off the grid and use the elements they work in every day–sun, wind, and water–to supply their energy needs. This renewable approach offers distinct advantages. But generating your own power isn’t for everyone.
Sarah and Raymond Luhrman epitomize the off-the-grid movement. They started a community-supported agriculture (CSA) on rented land; soon, their hobby became more like a full-time job. They outgrew their leased parcel of land. Raymond quit his day job, and the couple invested in acreage, calling their new venture Fox Creek Farm.
Right away, they were faced with a tough decision. They could have an energy company connect them to power lines–to the tune of over $40,000 and monthly bills for the foreseeable future. That’s the standard for most farms.
Or, they could go off the grid and design their farm to be self-sufficient, generating its own power. That would mean no monthly bills. But it would also mean less certainty and no access to government subsidies for energy costs.
They decided to run their farm on solar and wind power.
The Luhrmans followed a few strategies anyone contemplating farming off the grid should keep in mind.
- Determine your energy needs. If you’ve been farming for a while, you’ll have a good idea of what kind of power you’ll use. If not, you’ll need to do some research. Keep in mind that you can create some efficiencies along the way and find ways to do more with less, but start from a generous, realistic figure. Make sure to pad it a little to protect yourself.
- Figure out what renewable sources you can harness. Solar energy is a good idea if you live in Arizona, but might not be in Oregon. If you’re going to have turbines, make sure you have enough wind to turn them.
- Select sites strategically: Find out what areas of your farm get the most sun, and erect your solar panels there. Likewise, test to see what parts of your land get the most powerful wind gusts before you install turbines.
- For best results, minimize energy needs: The Luhrmans built their home and barn to minimize needs. They bought energy-efficient equipment and followed passive solar design principles to ensure they were drawing the minimum power from their renewably-sourced energy.
- Remember to budget: In addition to equipment, there are usually setup fees. The Luhrmans decided to put in their generators themselves to save money. Although there was a sharp learning curve, they saved $20,000 in installation costs.
Five years after they embarked on their off-the-grid experiment, Fox Creek Farm is thriving. It boasts 200 CSA subscribers. In becoming self-sufficient, Sara and Raymond have reduced energy usage and costs. They also have eliminated greenhouse gas emissions in power generation. That, to them, is the best of possible worlds.