Producing large volumes of food on today's modern farms takes energy. Energy is used directly in tractor fuels, building heating and cooling, and for other activities in crop and livestock production. It is also used to produce many of the chemicals and fertilizers needed for modern agricultural systems. The West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) is working on several research projects focused on lowering the amount of energy used in agriculture. By using new technology, changing techniques, and reducing inputs, researchers at the WCROC are testing the ability of these methods to reduce energy inputs and lower production costs in an applied agricultural setting.
An important method for analyzing these systems is lifecycle assessment (LCA), which tracks inputs and outputs of production systems to analyze the flow of resources. WCROC is using LCA to look at energy use in its dairy, swine, and cropping systems. By examining where energy is being used, we hope to find key points where its use can be reduced. As a simple example, examining energy inputs showed that an important energy use in the dairy system was an older compressor that could be cost-effectively updated with new technology. LCA studies of these systems allows much more complex analysis of all the inputs, outputs, and operations that occur in the production process.