Energy-efficient farming systems

Energy Efficient Farming


As energy prices continue to rise, farmers must reduce electricity and fuel use on the farm in order to reduce operation costs. Many energy conservation measures are free, low- cost, or have a cost-effective payback. This publication provides an overview of energy conservation across the many operations of the average livestock or field crop farm in Massachusetts. After reading this, the next step is to use a farm energy calculator as a self-assessment tool to determine where energy inefficiencies are occurring on your farm and where improvements can be made. Next, conduct an energy audit of your farm. Many utility companies can recommend an auditor or audit information can be found through the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) or the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Finally, take advantage of state and federal tax breaks, grants, and inventive programs for reducing energy use on your farm (see Additional Information section below).

Tips for Reducing Energy Use

Tractors, field work, grain driers, buildings, watering systems, fences, and other farm equipment are all part of the daily operations on a crop and livestock farm today and can incur high costs in energy use. The two main types of energy use on farms are electricity from the local utility company and fuel use such as heating oil or petroleum for running farm equipment. The following pages offer simple ways energy improvements can be made on the farm.

Tractors and Vehicles

Driving equipment on fields is one of the largest uses of energy on the farm, so careful maintenance and use of tractors will improve energy efficiency greatly. Use the correct grade of fuel for the weather (No. 2-D for warm weather and No. 1-D for extremely cold weather). Keeping engines running well in the winter with electric warmers is cheaper than using fuel to heat the engine. Idling vehicles can use up to 20% of total fuel use, so turn off machinery when not in use. If there are fuel tanks on the farm, keep them cool to reduce evaporation of fuels, and regularly inspect it for leaks.

Figure 1. Factors influencing reduced fuel efficiency on a diesel tractor

Regular maintenance of farm machinery including tune- ups, replacing filters, changing oil, and keeping tires inflated and balanced will help machinery last longer and save fuel. Reduce extra weight on vehicles to reduce fuel use. Use an appropriately sized tool or machine for the job so as not to waste fuel. Too much or too little horsepower will reduce fuel efficiency. Drive tractors in higher gears and at lower rpm or throttle setting to reduce fuel use but not too slow as to produce black smoke or a sluggish response. Sharpen ground tillage implements to work the soil with less resistance. Consider purchasing an ATV so as not to use a full sized truck for some smaller on-farm tasks.

Field Practices

Switching to no-till or minimum tillage can reduce fuel use by 86% but may increase the farmer’s dependency on herbicides to control weeds. Several conservation tillage methods exist such as zone or strip tillage where only the seeding area is plowed or ridge and mulch till which require fewer trips across the field. Combining field tasks such as spreading manure and planting simultaneously can reduce the number of passes over a field. Manage manure to reduce dependence on costly fossil fuel based fertilizers.

Average Fuel Use of Farm Activities in Gallons per Acre
Activity Gasoline Diesel
Plow 8 inches deep 2.35 1.68
Chisel plow 1.54 1.10
Cultivate field 0.84 0.60
Planting row crops 0.70 0.50
No-till planter 0.49 0.35
Combine 2.24 1.60
Baler 0.63 0.45
Sprayer 0.14 0.10
Grain drying 8.4 6.4