'Green' Energy Consumed in Agricultural Production Systems

The agricultural industry consumes an immense amount of fossil-fuel in the production of food, feed, fiber, and energy.  From the electricity that cools milk, to the fuel that is burned in combines and tractors in grain fields, to the trucks that bring goods to market, and to the nitrogen fertilizer that nourishes plants; the agricultural industry is captive to large and constant supplies of a wide range of fossil energy.   Agriculture’s dependence and thirst for fossil-fuel carries significant economic, environmental, and social risks for the nation and world.    

Green Revolution

Through past investments and institutional experience in renewable energy and energy efficient research, the University of Minnesota has a globally unique opportunity to lead a new green revolution - a revolution that greens energy currently consumed within the agricultural industry.  

Energy audits are being completed on the WCROC conventional and organic pasture-based dairy as well as the conventional and organic cropping systems supplying feed.  Informed by the energy audits, life cycle analysis (LCA) is being performed on the same production systems by using measured energy inputs and outputs of agricultural products such as grain and milk to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Energy-optimized systems that significantly improve energy efficiency, increase on-farm energy generation, and decrease GHG emissions are being developed, evaluated, and demonstrated.  The energy-optimized systems include integrated pre-commercial and commercial technologies predominantly from Minnesota companies.  The project team is conducting an economic feasibility study of implementing these energy-optimized systems on dairy farms.  Using information generated by the project, policy options are being explored.  

Look for results from this project to be posted soon.  

Making Progress

The overall objective is to reduce fossil-fuel consumption in agricultural production systems through renewable energy generation, energy conservation, and energy optimization of production systems.  To make progress towards this goal the project team is working on several tasks.

Task 1  Conduct baseline energy audits and then develop and evaluate energy-optimized systems in:

  • Conventional grazing dairy and organic grazing dairy
  • Conventional and organic feed crop and pasture production

Task 2  Perform life cycle assessments in the conventional and organic dairy while comparing audited un-optimized with optimized energy systems.

Task 3  Evaluate the financial and economic feasibility of the energy-optimized dairy production system.

Task 4  Develop and evaluate policy options to encourage agricultural producers to adopt energy-optimized production systems. 

Task 5  Deliver the knowledge and information gained to agricultural producers, energy professionals, and other stakeholders through the following activities:

    • Develop an electronic Guidebook Optimizing Energy Systems for Midwest Dairy Production
    • Build an electronic user-friendly decision tool that dairy producers can access with notebook computers or smart phones to evaluate and optimize their energy systems in the field.  (Click link to download)   
    • Host a website for broad-based outreach utilizing the site as a portal for disseminating electronic information and decision tools necessary to green agricultural energy across the globe.
    • Conduct a 1-day short course geared towards hands-on experiential learning for agricultural producers, energy professionals, students, instructors, and other stakeholders.
    • Host a national / international agricultural energy conference and tour showcasing the University of Minnesota.  The 2017 Midwest Farm Energy Conference was held on June 13-14 at the WCROC.


    University of Minnesota Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (now Institute on the Environment, or IonE)


    Principal Investigator:  Michael Reese, WCROC Renewable Energy Director

    Dr. Brad Heins, Dr. Lee Johnston, Dr. Larry Jacobson (Dept of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering), Dr. Joel Tallaksen, Eric Buchanan, Dr. Arne Kildegaard (University of Minnesota, Morris), Dr. Prodromos Daoutidis (Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science), Dr. Laura Kalambokidis (Department of Applied Economics)

    Additional Info


    Greening of Ag Initiative

    Greening of Ag: Crop Production

    Greening of Ag: Dairy Production

    Greening of Ag: Swine Production