Plucky farmer turns energy costs into chicken feed

A Victorian farmer has defied soaring energy bills to save $400,000 a year during the past decade – and he wants to show other producers how they can save money too.

Chicken farmer Chris Freney has made the efficiency savings by installing variable speed motors in his sheds, improving insulation and introducing solar power.

“The best energy is … the energy you don’t use … it’s free,” Mr Freney told AAP.

He will encourage other farmers to become more energy efficient when he speaks at the national renewables in agriculture conference in Dubbo on Wednesday.

Mr Freney is also building an aerobic digester to convert the 10,000 tonnes of manure his birds produce every year into energy to help power his farm.

But he said regulatory hurdles have been frustrating his energy journey because the biofuel plant will sit on an adjoining property, which means he can’t take his farm off grid.

“I’m going to have a renewables project on one title … my own farm can’t take the electrical energy, I have to buy it back off the grid after I export it,” he said.

The commercial chicken operator spent $25 million setting up the greenfield site in Traralgon and produces about 4.5 million birds for meat consumption every year.

He said big and small-scale producers can make energy savings.

“The bigger I’ve gone the economy of scale has helped, but a small farmer… can make the same proportion in savings,” Mr Freney said.

“The payback is within five years at least, probably more like four years.”

Mr Freney spends around $600,000 a year in gas and electricity bills to power his farm’s 16 poultry sheds, but he said if he had not made energy savings it would be around the million dollar mark.

Farmers for Climate Action said the Traralgon producer is an example of how much money can be saved through installing renewables and making smart changes on-farm.

“Even small changes can help farmers to reduce their energy costs,” said chief executive officer Fiona Davis.

Dr Davis, who has previously called for more support for on-farm renewables and subsidies for batteries, said the federal government has provided some tax incentives to cut energy bills but more is needed.

An Australian Farm Institute report from 2018 estimated the agriculture sector spends $5.85 billion on energy annually across the entire supply chain.

Conference organiser Karin Stark said the first step in the renewables journey was for farmers to make sure they first reduced their energy consumption.

“You don’t want to be sizing a renewable energy system or solar to meet the demand that might be quite high on your farm, when you could actually reduce that significantly,” she told AAP.

“Chris is a great case study of the steps you need to take before you go to renewables.”


Liv Casben
(Australian Associated Press)


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