Transitioning Minnesota Farms to Local Energy

The agricultural industry consumes an immense amount of fossil-fuel in the production of food, feed, fiber, and energy. From the electricity that cools pigs, 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.  

Agriculture production is a large industry within Minnesota and currently requires large amounts of imported fossil energy. The use of fossil energy for agriculture impacts the environment, air, water, and economy. In order to transition to better energy systems, agricultural producers need research-based information to understand energy currently being used as well as field studies of renewable energy and energy efficient options for their farms.

The goal of this project was to provide swine producers with research-based information enabling the transition to clean, locally-produced energy. 

Objectives & Results

The project was organized into four tasks. The first task was to design clean energy systems for modern swine facilities. Research began by auditing energy consumption at six commercial swine production facilities as well as the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC). Commercial swine facilities included breed to wean, nursery, and finishing facilities. Baseline energy consumption data enabled researchers to prioritize high to low energy loads for each phase of production. Then an engineering firm analyzed several energy efficiency measures (EEM) appropriate for swine production. Return on Investments (ROI) were calculated for each EEM. The second task, was to field test clean energy systems and develop effective control strategies. A 27 kW solar PV system was installed and tested on the WCROC swine finishing facility. On an annual basis, the system provided all energy consumed within the facility generating 30,000 kWhr per year. Solar PV system ROIs were then modeled.

Life Cycle Assessment was employed in Track 3 to identify areas where swine farm operations could be changed to improve the sustainability of the pork supply chain. LCA methodology was used to analyze the amount of fossil energy used by and carbon dioxide emitted during the swine production cycle. The specific goal of the work was to develop a model for understanding how energy use and greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced using conservation techniques or renewable electricity. Results indicated the Global Warming Potential (GWP) emissions in the broader swine lifecycle were highest for feed production, which accounted for almost 60% percent of fossil energy and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. The fossil energy portion of the production system that can be directly controlled by the hog growers is producer is roughly 25% of the energy of producing pork. Renewable energy replacements for fossil based electricity, such as solar PV, can significantly lower fossil energy use for swine production. 

Track 4 involved dissemination of results and education. The Midwest Farm Energy Conference was hosted at the WCROC in June 2017, and again in July 2019. Approximately 90 farmers and other guests participated in each event. Swine energy workshops were conducted in other regions of the State. Energy information was provided to producers, who in total, market over 3 million pigs per year and represent over 90% of the State’s annual production. 


This project was supported by The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund* as recommended by the Legislative ‐ Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) Project #: FY2014 - 122E.

* The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources. Currently 40% of net Minnesota State Lottery proceeds are dedicated to growing the Trust Fund and ensuring future benefits for Minnesota’s environment and natural resources. 


Dr. Lee Johnston, Dr. Larry Jacobson (Dept of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering), Dr. Joel Tallaksen, Eric Buchanan, Dr. Kevin Janni (Dept of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering), and Kirsten Sharpe.

Resources & Additional Info