Energy Input-Output Audits

There are many factors that determine whether an agricultural operation or homestead will be viable over the long term, but chief among them is whether it delivers a positive return on the resources its proprietor invests in it. Among the resources that must be invested in any food producing enterprise is energy, both in terms of fuels like gasoline, diesel, electricity and wood, among potentially many others, as well as human or animal labor. The primary way one might assess the energy return on investment their operation yields is by doing – or hiring someone else to do – an energy audit. Traditional energy audits are relatively narrow in scope, often only looking at electricity use or perhaps heating fuel. These analyses can be useful for identifying some energy efficiency opportunities, but can’t offer proprietors the bird’s eye view of their operation needed to inform broader strategic considerations.

FarmFoodEnergyThe energy input-output audits I offer are far broader in scope than typical energy audits, quantifying all energy inputs as well as estimating the energy value of food production. By looking at both the energy inputs and food energy outputs, I’m able to offer proprietors a sense of the energy return on invested their operation yields, in others words how efficient it is at turning the myriad energy inputs that are invested into food energy outputs. In these audits I quantify two broad classes of energy use, direct and indirect energy. Most proprietors think only in terms of direct energy, which includes the gasoline, diesel, propane and electricity, among other fuels, used on the property. Fuels used directly are often only a small share of the total energy used by an operation though; energy used indirectly to manufacture machinery, equipment, building materials and consumable farm inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and animal feed is often larger, sometimes much larger. The costs of direct energy use are obvious, while the costs of energy used indirectly are hidden in the purchase prices of the goods and services used to support the operation. My energy input-output audits allow proprietors – farmers and homesteaders - to gain a more expansive picture of how energy fuels their operation, allowing them to better control their costs, craft marketing programs to set their products above those offered by competitors, and generally support their operations’  long-term viability.

While most audits I do are for Vermont farms, I’m happy to work with proprietors outside the state and even outside the United States. I generally gather data using a survey, and provide a report summarizing results. I also offer phone or in-person consultations to help proprietors or farm managers understand the analysis and strategize how best to use it to refine their operation and business and marketing plans. While most of the farmers I’ve worked with run commercial enterprises, homesteaders and non-commercial farms can use these audits to help buffer their operations from the impacts associated with rising energy prices or, for educational farms, as pedagogical aids.

The cost of a farm energy input-output audit ranges from $300 to over $1,000, depending on the scale and complexity of the operation. I offer discounted rates to those who allow me to feature their data in educational media. If you’d like to discuss having me audit your farm or homestead, email me at Eric [at] HowEricLives [dot] com or call me at 802.881.8675 and I’ll return your call.