Five practices to reduce energy use

For decades, Iowa farmers have worked with USDA to protect the natural resources on their farms. The state’s best conservationists are no-till farming to reduce soil erosion, reducing and better timing their nutrient applications to improve water quality, and rotationally grazing livestock for better grass and animal performance. Now, USDA is encouraging producers to consider conservation practices that help reduce the amount of energy they use on their farms.

Key Points

Farmers encouraged to identify best ways to conserve energy on their farms.

NRCS can provide eligible farmers with assistance to complete an energy audit.

Audit will recommend measures and practices that can pay off in several ways.

Here is a list of five conservation practices — new and existing — that can help farmers reduce energy consumption on their farms:

Crop residue management. Not only is no-till farming the best way to reduce soil erosion in Iowa, but it is also one of the best ways to reduce energy consumption. No-till and strip-till farmers conserve energy by simply eliminating the number of annual tillage passes through their crop fields.

Nutrient management. By applying the right nutrient source at the right rate at the right time in the right place, farmers can cut the cost and energy required to properly and efficiently fertilize their crops.

Windbreaks and shelterbelts. These multi-row shrub and tree plantings supply habitat for wildlife and protect against soil losses from wind erosion. But they also slow winds blowing through farmstead homes, barns and livestock facilities. Windbreaks can block cold northwesterly winter winds and also provide shade in the summer.

Farmstead energy improvement. This is a newer conservation practice that includes developing and implementing improvements to on-farm energy use and efficiency. It could include installing more efficient light bulbs in livestock facilities; improving the HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; or replacing ventilation fans.

Pumping plant. These facilities are used to deliver water for irrigation, wetlands or watering facilities for livestock. They can be made more energy efficient through the use of solar panels or other renewable energy sources.

Iowa farmers can identify the best ways to conserve energy on their farms through an on-farm energy audit. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, On-Farm Energy Initiative, provides eligible landowners financial and technical assistance to hire a certified Technical Service Provider, or TSP, to complete the energy audit. “The TSP will recommend measures and practices based on the on-farm energy audit,” says Dave Brommel, EQIP coordinator for NRCS in Iowa.

NRCS also provides online energy estimators for animal housing, irrigation, nitrogen and tillage to identify where farmers can reduce energy and costs. Visit the NRCS website,, or contact your local NRCS office for more information.

Johnson is public affairs specialist for USDA-NRCS in Des Moines.


NO-TILL WORKS: Soybeans will grow well in corn residue, as shown in this Union County field in southwest Iowa. No-till is one of the best practices for reducing on-farm energy use.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.