April 28, 2006
Reducing On-Farm Energy Use Reduces Costs: Apply These Tips To Your Farm
One way producers can cut production costs this season is to cut energy use on their farms.
Some energy-saving changes are fairly easy to make, according to Steve Chick, Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist, and will result in less fuel use and reduced costs. Many Nebraska farmers are already using energy-saving strategies, but there is still room for others to adopt them, Chick said.
For Nitrogen, Tillage and Irrigation:
Leaving Crop Residue on the Soil Surface. According to data from the Conservation Technology Information Center, a farmer can save at least 3.5 gallons of fuel per acre by changing from conventional tillage to no-till, leaving the soil undisturbed from harvest through planting and causing minimal soil disturbance. Using November 2005 diesel prices, on 1,000 acres of cropland, this savings can add up to 3,500 gallons of fuel per year or about $7,700.
“The NRCS has recently made available an Energy Estimator for Tillage. The on-line tool estimates diesel fuel use and costs in the farmer's area,and compares potential energy savings between conventional tillage and alternative tillage systems,” said Chick. The Energy Estimator for Tillage takes just three steps to calculate the diesel fuel used and estimated costs with various tillage practices to help farmers make money-saving decisions, Chick said. Besides leaving crop residue on the soil surface, other ways to conserve energy are:
Manure Management. According to USDA, currently 2.7 million tons of manure based nitrogen is applied on ag land annually. It takes about 40,000 cubic feet of natural gas to produce a ton of commercial nitrogen fertilizer. Substituting manure for commercial fertilizer can reduce fertilizer costs as much as $85 per acre for a 1,000-acre farm.
Irrigation Savings. Nebraska has an estimated 8.1 million acres of irrigated land with the majority using sprinkler systems. Converting from medium pressure to low pressure systems, the per acre energy savings could be about $9 per acre. Converting from the high-pressure systems to low pressure would result in an additional $41 savings per acre.
“In the last four years, NRCS has helped change over 1,100 sprinkler improvements. NRCS offers cost share funds and technical assistance to make these improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program,” said Chick. Applications for these funds are being continuously taken at local NRCS offices.
Precision Agriculture. Reducing overlap on fertilizer and pesticide applications could add $13 per acre savings by using precision agriculture techniques.
Prescribed Grazing Systems. It takes 40 pounds of nitrogen (high natural gas user) at $0.40 per pound to produce a ton of grass hay; 1.35 gallons of diesel fuel at $2.41 per gallon to raise, harvest, store, and feed the hay; and dry matter losses of about 30 percent of field-stored hay. Every month that cows remain on pasture reduces direct energy costs by about $10.70 per cow. Ranchers can get more information on grazing options at the local NRCS office.
Windbreaks and Shelterbelts. Planting trees and shrubs for windbreaks and shelterbelts can reduce wind-induced erosion and save heating and cooling costs around homes and buildings. Windbreaks can lower heating and cooling costs by 20%.