Victorian farmers, like farmers everywhere, aim to maximise their outputs by being efficient with their inputs. Energy is key to this, and to help farmers stay resilient, productive and adaptable, the Victorian Government has developed the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan (AEIP) that works to assist and engage with the agricultural industry to improve production, investment, skills and promote new energy technologies developments.
Implementation of the plan, which is part of a broader suite of economy-wide energy transition initiatives, requires Agriculture Victoria to effectively engage and collaborate with a broad range of farmers and agricultural businesses . Agriculture Victoria therefore engaged BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) to conduct a study with Victorian farmers to identify how they make decisions and what actions they have implemented to manage their energy use, costs and risks. These insights would then be used Agriculture Victoria to inform future engagement efforts.
Fifty farmers from the dairy, horticulture, pig and poultry sectors were interviewed in 2020, revealing an industry where most farmers are acutely aware of their energy use, costs and risks, and engaged in a highly deliberative decision-making process. Even if energy represented a relatively small part of their overall costs or turnover, interviewees placed considerable value on being efficient and reducing costs wherever they can.
While some of the energy actions mentioned by interviewees were sector specific (e.g., dairy farmers upgrading their dairies, horticulture farmers upgrading their cools rooms and irrigation systems, and pig/poultry farmers improving their shed insulation and ventilation), there were also several synergies between them. These included using motors with variable speed drives, solar panels, LEDs, back-up generators, computer-controlled systems, fuel efficient vehicle upgrades, running equipment during the off-peak and using energy brokers to secure better deals. While many of these actions were common between farmers who had participated in the AEIP (e.g., audit, grants) and those who had not, our impression was that those who had participated invested in more of these actions, particularly ones that were more expensive and ambitious in delivering energy savings.
However, two technologies that hold great promise (but are currently cost prohibitive) were identified as batteries and biogas generators.
While the motivations for implementing these actions were often cost driven, participants also nominated improved animal welfare, product quality, production efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as important factors (many of which they had witnessed first-hand following the implementation of these actions).
Results and recommendations from the study point toward Agriculture Victoria further supporting farmers by keeping them updated on technology trends, government rebates and incentives, energy brokerage opportunities, training and face to face interactions – high value is placed on personal connections and networks. Agriculture Victoria also has opportunities to promote the benefits of managing energy use, costs and risks beyond simply cost savings, to exploit ‘teachable moments’ in farmers’ lives (such as new equipment or land purchases), to seek and nurture trusted energy ‘champions’ in the farming community and to bring desired technologies such as batteries and biogas generators within the realm of realistic options.
Good farm practice depends on, but goes beyond, purely cost savings. While there are limitations on what can be achieved in innovating energy management, the AEIP seeks to overcome obstacles and help Victorian farmers realise their ambitions of managing their inputs to achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves, the community and the environment.
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