Irish turbine blowing energy into French farm
A Breton farmer has installed the first Irish-made wind turbine of the country on his land, cutting his electricity bills by half – and hoping to save more as energy prices rise in the future.

Gilbert Cosson’s pig and dairy farm, a short drive inland from the coast of Brittany, looks like any other – until you come up close and notice his new wind turbine. This is the first such machine in France made by the Galway-based firm C&F Green Energy, an established manufacturer of turbines in Ireland and Britain.

Cosson, 56, was the ideal candidate to bring Irish-made wind generators to the country after the failure of previous attempts. He already had solar panels installed and is always curious about new technologies.

“I like engineering and understanding how things are made,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal during a recent open day on his farm.

After seeing the turbine at the SPACE show nearby, he said he would buy one if C&F brought him to Ireland to see how they were made.

The company obliged, and the machine was connected to the farm’s electricity mains at the beginning of this year.

Milking robot and pig shed ventilation

This hilly site 20km inland from the sea is well located to get a regular breeze, and Cosson’s farm is ideal to benefit from the resulting steady stream of electricity. He milks 45 cows robotically and finishes 1,500 pigs in ventilated sheds. “I’m consuming at least 10kW at any given time,” he explained. He also keeps 200 sows on an outfarm.

His annual electricity bill is currently €8,000, but he expects this to go up from next year. “This is a long-term bet on rising power costs,” he said.

Cosson built the concrete slab and hut used to house the electrical equipment connected to the turbine. The machine itself, with a capacity of up to 25kW, and other ancillary works cost him €125,000 in total.

One bad surprise was the high cost of the underground cable linking the turbine to the farm buildings, at €8,000.

A local company, Diwatt, managed the whole process, supplying the equipment from Ireland and organising planning permission.

€4,000 annual saving

So far, wind power has been on track to cover half of Cosson’s €8,000 annual electricity bill. Such savings, rather than profit from selling power back to the national grid, is the attraction for French farmers.

“The goal is self-consumption,” said Diwatt head Florian Lucas. Farmers there pay 12c to 14c excluding VAT per kWh for electricity, while the feed-in tariff (FiT) to sell wind power back to the national grid brings in only 8.5c/kWh. The same logic applies in Ireland at the moment, but this could change with new incentives due to encourage renewable energy production next year.

The difference, however, is that electricity charges for small businesses rose by 9.5% in France last year – three times faster than here. And this is only the beginning: “The end of regulated tariffs for small businesses on 1 January 2016 will push electricity prices up,” said Lucas. “This is a good time for farmers to buy equipment.”

He expects a wind turbine to pay for itself within 10 years as a result of rising electricity costs – instead of three decades at current prices in the case of Gilbert Cosson.

High-tech features

To tap this emerging market – and others, such as Japan with its high FiTs or the US where grants are available for investment in wind energy – C&F has developed smaller turbines with the kind of high-tech features usually found in large, industrial units.

The machine installed on Cosson’s farm computes the best angle to catch the wind and rotates automatically, adjusting the angle of its blades in the process. It is connected to a maintenance centre through the mobile phone network. Irish-based technicians monitor it and can stop it if something goes wrong. Yet, it cannot be seen or heard by any neighbours, and Cosson had no problem placing it directly opposite his home.

“Our machines are not the megawatt, 80-metre towers you see on TV shows,” C&F’s global operations and business development manager Paul Fitzpatrick told the Irish Farmers Journal. ‘‘Their tip point would be under 50m and a passing car would make more noise than our turbines.”

C&F Green Energy is part of the C&F engineering group based in Athenry, Co Galway. Its range of turbines, starting at €75,000 for a 20kW machine, has proved successful in both Ireland and the UK, where the company claims to have 1,200 of them installed.

It is now competing with European and US-based manufacturers to expand internationally and its foray into the French market is supported by Enterprise Ireland.

“France is a huge agricultural market and with the removal of milk quotas and the expected increase in the cost of electricity, there is a huge opportunity here for C&F,” said Aisling O’Donnell, business development executive for Enterprise Ireland in Paris.

The company’s growth could benefit the Galway area, where it already employs 500 people.

“Everything is manufactured in the west of Ireland,” said Fitzpatrick – although the company is considering sourcing some products in its target markets, such as the masts supporting the turbines.

“You need a balance between the two: to sell in the US, you also need the stamp ‘Made in USA’,” he added.

As for Gilbert Cosson, he is already looking out for the next innovation: batteries to store electricity during high winds and use it later, increasing self-sufficiency. “The Chinese are working on it. I’m sure they will be available in two years’ time’,” he said.

Maintenance contract an essential part of the investment

Gilbert Cosson’s turbine is monitored remotely, self-greasing and attached to an articulated mast that can be lowered for a half-day annual maintenance service.

French distributor and installer Diwatt also provides the maintenance contract – a crucial part of the long-term investment in wind energy.

“We installed a turbine in 2010, but it broke down and the company that sold it to us has shut down,” said one of the farmers who visited Cosson’s farm on the open day.

A group of Scottish farmers recently contacted the Irish Farmers Journal to complain that C&F Green Energy, too, had trouble providing maintenance services there.

According to the turbine owners, they paid upfront for one- or two-year maintenance contracts, with servicing failing to take place in time. They also said that C&F asked to renew maintenance contracts before previously agreed services were completed.

The company acknowledged that there had been delays in servicing in the past because of the sharp increase in the number of turbines being installed, but added that it had contracted a new service provider in the UK more than four months ago, with more people to carry out maintenance visits.

“When you have 1,200 machines in the market, you cannot get to everybody in one day, but to my knowledge there is no conflict at the moment,” said C&F’s Paul Fitzpatrick.

Whatever the make and model chosen when installing a wind turbine, the cases above highlight the need to go through an established local installer to source and service the equipment.

At current electricity prices in France, Gilbert Cosson’s wind turbine would pay for itself in 31 years. To make the investment worthwhile within a more reasonable time frame of 15 years, French electricity prices would have to double. This may seem a lot, but with a near 10% jump in electricity costs for small businesses last year and deregulation on the way, the bet could prove to be a winning one in the long run.

Should we be moving away from standard farm building designs?
Farmers should be calculating the required inlet and outlet ventilation for their sheds before they finalise a design, writes William Conlon.

Oftentimes, when a farmer is designing a building they will design it based on the Department of Agriculture specification S.101. The specification has been continually improving and ensures that sheds are built to a very high standard.

It outlines different inlet and outlet ventilation requirements, based on the width of the building. However, it does not take into account the internal layout of the shed.

Stack effect

Buildings should be designed to take advantage of both natural ventilation and the stack effect.

The stack effect is where heat generated by livestock warms the air, which rises up and out of the shed at the apex.

This in turn sucks in fresh air from the inlets along the side of the building. This highlights the importance of having an outlet for air.

If there is no outlet at the apex of the shed, then stale air will be pushed out through the inlets at the side of the shed.

This will mean that fresh air and stale air will be pushing against each other which will result in a very poor flow of air into the shed.

In sheds over 15m wide there is a requirement by the Department of Agriculture to leave a continuous opening of 600mm directly below the eaves. If there is vented sheeting along the side of the building, this decreases to an opening of 450mm.

While a continuous opening is a very good source of inlet ventilation for older stock, for young calves it can lead to draughts.

While more detailed calculations can be completed to evaluate the amount of inlet and outlet area needed for ventilation, using rough figures we need an outlet area of at least 0.04m2 per calf up to 100kg, increasing to 0.1m2 for growing and adult stock. These figures are modified by stocking density of the shed.

The inlet areas for ventilation need to be twice and ideally four times the calculated outlet areas, so 0.2-0.4m2/animal.

For anyone who has built a shed, have you ever considered the actual ventilation requirements based on the stock that will be housed in that shed?

Example

Take two sheds of the same size – one is fitted with cubicles and the other is fully slatted.

Each shed has a passage running down the centre and an animal area either side of this passage of 115m2.

There are very different requirements for these sheds based on the number of livestock they can hold.

Figure 1 shows a cubicle shed where cows would have an area of 5m2/cow, common for cubicle sheds.

This would mean 23 cows could be held either side of the shed, or 46 in total.

If we take a similar-sized slatted shed used for finishing cattle and allocate space of 2.5m2/animal (Department recommended stocking rate for cattle over 275kg) it would mean that we could fit 46 animals on either side of the shed, or 92 animals in total.

This is double the amount of animals, but ventilation requirements are the same for both sheds, according to the Department specifications.

Having an opening of 600mm directly below the eaves (as the shed is more than 15m wide) gives the shed total inlet ventilation of 27.6m2 between the two sides.

If we have 92 cattle in our shed as seen in Figure 2, at an inlet requirement of 0.2m2 (double the 0.1m2 outlet area required), we require 18.4m2 of inlet area. If we increase this to 0.4m2/animal it means we require 36.8m2 of inlet area.

However, for our 46 cows in Figure 1 we require 9.2m2 of inlet ventilation (0.2m2 x 46 cows), or 18.4m2 if we increase this to 0.4m2/animal. The shed design ensures that there is more than enough inlet ventilation.

However, a continuous opening under the roof will not suit all situations, particularly on exposed sites, or calf sheds, for example, where it can lead to draughts. The only other option left to farmers is to use spaced boarding or Yorkshire boarding. As the shed is over 15m wide we are not permitted to use vented sheeting alone.

If using spaced boarding, it must be a minimum depth of 1.5m along the full length of the shed while boards must be 75mm wide with a gap of 25mm.

This equates to a void area of 25%. If a farmer uses spaced boarding along the length of the shed outlined above, at a depth of 1.6m for example, he has a total inlet area of 18.4m2 (1.6m x 23m = 36.8 x 25% = 9.2m2 on either side of the shed).

While this would be sufficient for our 46 cows in Figure 1, it would not provide sufficient inlet ventilation for the 92 cattle in the shed in Figure 2.

While both a continuous opening underneath the eaves of the shed and spaced boarding are excellent options for inlet ventilation, it all depends on what is in the shed. Ventilation should not be viewed as a one-cap-fits-all approach and maybe it is time we go back to the basics with shed design and put the focus on the animal.

Department specifications

Up to this point there has been confusion from farmers as to whether Yorkshire boarding is allowed on grant-aided buildings.

However, the Department has moved to clarify the situation, outlining that specification S.101 is “currently undergoing revision to update requirements, include new items and updates in relation to ventilation.

Space boarding will be considered during the review. However, if an applicant wishes to use it at present, they should submit details of their proposal to the Department.

The Department of Agriculture has grant-aided buildings with double-sided spaced boarding (more commonly known as Yorkshire boarding), while not specifically accounted for in specification S.101.”

The Department also stated that vented sheeting is now required to have a minimum void area of 18%, with the target ratio of 25%.

There is no date as to when this specification will be updated.

In pictures: passion for traditional farm buildings in Co Louth
Pat McMahon from Co Louth recently held an open day to showcase improvements made to his traditional farm buildings, writes Teagasc advisor, Aine Gaffney.

Pat McMahon is a suckler farmer located in north Co Louth, who recently benefited from a grant to conserve the traditional buildings in place on his farm.

To be eligible for the Traditional Farm Buildings Grant Scheme, which Pat availed of, a farmer must also be an applicant of the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environmental Scheme (GLAS).

“We carried out a lot of research into the history of the buildings as well as the grants that were available,” Pat explained to the crowd of over 100 who attended the open day.

Music and dancing

“These buildings date back to the late 1800s, and form the exterior of an old farm courtyard. In by-gone times, it provided a meeting point for local people where they danced and played music. In more recent times, the buildings were used for storing and bruising grain."

The slates started to fall off some of the roofs on the buildings after storm Ophelia, so work had to be done for safety reasons, if for nothing else.

Before: one of the biggest issues with old buildings is water ingress.

Grant-aid

It is important to know that the grant is aimed at conserving traditional buildings and not restoring them.

“Minimum intervention is key,” Pat explained.

Anna Meehan, project manager with the Heritage Council, was also heavily involved with the project. Every year the scheme is over-subscribed, with funding only available for 50 to 60 projects annually, out of over 200 applications.

After: the first job that had to be done was to strip off the slates and the ridge tiles.

“It’s about preserving what is there more than anything else,” Pat said. “I got approval for the project in mid-2018 but getting started wasn’t as straightforward as expected. I had to get a bat-bird survey done and found out that bats used the buildings.”

The bat-bird survey was carried out by Donna Mullen from Bat Conservation Ireland. Following this survey, a derogation licence under the Wildlife Act 1976 was required due to the presence of bats in the building. This meant work could only start on 1 September 2018.

After: 80% of the slates on the existing roofs were salvaged.

Getting started

The first job that was done was to strip off the slates and ridge tiles on the loft.

Some rafters were rotting and had to be spliced.

The Heritage Council had no objection to the provision of an additional lower line of collar ties to the roof, which helped to tie the buildings while also maintaining head height. All slate batons were replaced on the roofs.

Almost all of the slates on the existing roofs were salvaged. The shortfall of slates was obtained from a local salvage yard. The slates were re-instated using copper nails, while the ridge tiles were re-bedded using lime mortar.

A new floor was installed in the loft. All timbers in the buildings were treated for woodworm while all doors to the buildings were in very poor condition and had to be replaced.

“They were sanded down, primed and glossed to match existing doors. The main issue when people go to do up old buildings is water getting into a building and destroying the walls,” Pat said.

After: Some of the buildings required minor lime pointing.

Passion

“I love traditional buildings,” Pat said. “I have perfect soil and sand for sustainable building and repairs here. The loss of skills in rural Ireland is something that you hate to see. This was a great project to be involved in as I always tried to keep the buildings well maintained previously and this was the finishing touch to them.”

Pat's Teagasc adviser James Mimnagh helped to submit the grant application and was followed through by James’s successor Feidhlim Burke.

The GLAS Traditional Farm Buildings Grant Scheme is managed by the National Heritage Council on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which is funded by the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme – the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development in Europe.

Aine Gaffney is a business and technology adviser for Teagasc.

What to look out for if milking on robots this spring
A recent robotic advisory training day held by Lely Center Mullingar highlighted key performance indicators farmers should be looking out for if milking through robots for the first time this spring.

Robotic milking can provide farmers with a raft of information that can be used to increase production and improve herd health.

For a farmer in their first year, the main focus will be on getting milk flowing and cows moving, but there are some figures that farmers should be aware of.

Responding to the information provided can be an efficient way to highlight issues and alter management, this was the message from the team at Lely Center Mullingar at a recent adviser training day.

Sean Callan, farm management support specialist with Lely, was speaking on the day.

A lot of information on cow performance can be got from the dashboard.

“When it comes to failures (cows that are not fully milked) the aim should be for less than five/day/robot. If it is over this, then there is a problem somewhere in the system, and more often than not that will be down to management.

“Every failed milking, the cow is coming out half-milked, which can lead to somatic cell count issues and milk quality issues.” Another indicator to be aware of is the number of attempts it takes the robot to attach to the teats. “Connect attempts should be 1.3 or lower/cow. Heifers or cows being trained-in can be higher than this, and dirty tails or udders can also cause issues,” Sean said.

Box time

Sean continued, “The box time for cows should be six to seven minutes. If they are under six minutes, then it means cows are coming into the robot too often, which can lead to cows being over milked.

“Slow milkers are also not suitable for robots but this will generally mean farmers only culling one or two cows from their system.”

Rest feed concentrate (%) outlines the percent of feed that a cow has been allocated through the robot that is not getting consumed. The target for this is to be less than 10%.

Cow box time should be between 6-7 minutes per visit.

“It could be a case that the cow is being allocated too much feed, or that they are not spending enough time in the robot,” Sean explained. “This could lead to issues where cows might not be getting enough minerals for example.”

The maximum feed per visit to the robot is 3kg of concentrates.

“If you want to feed 12kg for example, for high yielding cows, then you might need to look at out-of-parlour feeding. Ideally, you want to keep it to a maximum of three milkings/cow/day as any more than this and you will reduce the amount of cows that the robot can carry.”

The robot will also show how long it has been since a cow has been milked. The target here is to go a maximum of 24 hours without being milked. If more than 10% of the herd go over this then the cause needs investigation. Poor grassland management can be one of the main culprits.