University of Minnesota Center Helps Agriculture Become More Sustainable

Oct. 10, 2017

Audio with Michael Reese, renewable energy director, West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota. MP3 2.1 MB. Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:19.

Research by the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center is helping agriculture become more sustainable. The Center’s goal is to reduce the use of fossil energy in agriculture and the carbon footprint of agricultural products. Michael Reese is the director of renewable energy at the Center. He says the Center’s Greening of Ag Initiative starts with evaluating energy needs.

“The first thing we need to do as a research agriculture institution is better understand current energy consumption on farms. So we’ve gone to commercial swine production facilities as well as our research facility, and we’re starting to look at commercial dairy production and identifying where the energy is consumed. That helps us to look at the areas where we need to make improvements.”

Through research in swine facilities, the Center found significant room for improvement when it comes to heat lamps to warm piglets.

“Typically, those electric heat lamps take up 40 to 50% of the electrical energy requirements. So that’s an area that we can make substantial improvements. And so we are looking at different ways to make that more efficient, looking at using liquid-based heating pads as well as electric heating pads and some other technologies to keep those piglets warm.”

One way their research has found to reduce fossil energy use in agriculture is a process to make nitrogen fertilizer from wind energy. He says that’s a “win-win” for agriculture.

“Wind turbines on farms that generate electricity, so if utilities need the power, they have access to it. But if not, then the excess power can be converted in to anhydrous ammonia or nitrogen fertilizer that the farmers can use on their fields. And another interesting aspect of that is just starting to be researched is using that anhydrous ammonia to produce electricity again, so the long-term storage of wind energy, as well as using it for a transportation fuel.”

He says the renewable energy sector continues to evolve and become more feasible for farmers.

“The technology for renewable energy is rapidly improving and even though it may not have been feasible 5 years ago, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t feasible today. So it’s one thing that I would always encourage farmers is to keep revisiting both renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.”