Number Crunch Fuel Costs in Seconds

New NRCS tool estimates diesel fuel use and costs in the production of key crops and compares potential energy savings. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Dec 7, 2005

In 2005, farmers and ranchers spent an extra $5.3 billion in energy costs. A new tool from USDA helps farmers plan, and potentially save on rising energy costs in the 2006 growing season.

In a matter of seconds you can determine total diesel fuel savings between conventional tillage and alternative tillage systems. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service launched its new Energy Estimator for Tillage at http://ecat.sc.egov.usda.gov.

The crops covered for the estimator are limited to the most predominant crops in 74 Crop Management Zones. NRCS agronomists have identified these crops and estimated the fuel use associated with common tillage systems. Without including every crop and tillage system, the Energy Estimator gives you an idea of the magnitude of diesel fuel savings under different levels of tillage.

In two easy steps you enter your zip code and estimated acreage for each crop. The estimator then provides fuel estimates for conventional tillage, mulch-till, ridge-till and no-till on a per acre basis.

The tool is the first of several tools from NRCS to increase energy awareness in agriculture. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns says future irrigation and fertilizer costs tools are in the development stages and expected out in 2006.

In addition to the tool, Johanns outlined USDA's energy strategy offering both short and long-term strategies for addressing rising energy costs.

USDA announces energy strategy

Johanns says USDA's energy strategy offers both short and long-term approaches with the following ways.

  • New risk management tools to address costs: USDA's Risk Management Agency will host a workshop by early spring to seek ideas and promote discussion about how best to create such risk management tools.
  • Maximize use of guaranteed loan authorities: Recognizing that higher energy costs can impact producers' ability to borrow funds, Johanns directed the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to use all available budget authorities, and if necessary, seek approval to redirect resources within its guaranteed and direct loan programs to provide support to producers who need credit.
  • User friendly ways to make better decisions and calculate savings: The Energy Estimator for Tillage and future fertilizer and irrigation tools fall into this category.
  • Promoting renewable fuel: The Secretary has directed Rural Development to maximize the use of approximately $1.4 billion available this year in various business and electric loan and loan guarantee authorities.  More specifically, Johanns directed these funds be used to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities efficiently create renewable energy systems and businesses.
  • Hosting a national energy conference: The Energy Agriculture Forum will take place in St. Louis, Missouri on December 14-15, 2005 to discuss new technology, programs and initiatives that will increase energy production from agriculture.
  • Forming the USDA Energy Council: Examine departmental programs and authorities, ensuring they fit into a comprehensive energy strategy. Coordinate implementation of USDA's energy strategy and partner with the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and others in an effort to achieve the Renewable Fuels Standard set by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 well before the statutory deadline.