Farmers don't have to wait for "green" technologies or other advanced energy conservation techniques to conserve fuel and save money on their farm.
The savings already exist, if they know where to look, often with little or no investment, says Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer.
There are three areas of potential savings: changing crop production; effectively managing farmstead facilities; and maintaining vehicles and equipment.
- Practice conservation tillage, either with no-till or other tillage-limiting techniques. "Fuel used for getting the crop established in no-till is about half compared to using intensive tillage," he says.
- Grow cover crops as a partial replacement for commercial fertilizer. "Making use of cover crops to capture nitrogen can cut commercial purchases by 50 to 100 pounds per acre," Reeder says. Whether farmers grow legumes or non-legumes as cover crops, they are reducing the need for purchased nitrogen. "The value of a legume is that you are growing nitrogen, and the value of a non-legume, like ryegrass, is that you are storing nitrogen. Either way that's less commercial fertilizer you have to add to the soil."
- Rotate crops. "Soybeans rotated with corn supplies nitrogen for the corn crop. Yields are usually higher compared to continuous corn."
Manage Farmstead Facilities
- Inspect ventilation and heating systems. "The ventilation system inlets and exhaust fans should be checked," he says. "An inlet opening that's too wide could result in poor distribution of fresh air in winter. Any excess ventilation above the minimum required for the animals is using more fuel to heat the air."
- Use more efficient lighting by switching from incandescent to fluorescent lights, both in farm buildings and in the home. "They cost more, but they use less electricity and last much longer," Reeder says.
Maintain Vehicles and Equipment
- Use the right kind of tires at the proper inflation. "On the average farm, the majority of tires are over-inflated," he says. "Over-inflation causes excess slippage. Keeping tires at the correct pressure improves traction, flotation, and wear." Check tire pressure once a week during times of heavy usage.
- Maintain regular maintenance on equipment, including changing air and fuel filters. "Scheduled maintenance saves fuel and increases power," Reeder says. "A partially plugged fuel filter cuts down the amount of fuel getting to the engine, thereby losing power."
- Shut off idling engines. "Don't let a diesel engine idle more than about 10 minutes," he advises. "Research shows it's less efficient to keep an engine idling for warmth than it is to re-start it. Of course, results may change in extremely cold weather."
- Be mindful of fuel-wasting use of the equipment. For example, when subsoiling, don't go any deeper than necessary to break up compacted soil. "The deeper you go, the more power it takes," Reeder says.
- Replace worn equipment parts. "Keeping any ground-engaging tools sharp makes a big difference when it comes to saving fuel and improving speed and field efficiency," he says.
Small steps can add up to big savings, he says. "For many situations," Reeder says, "every dollar saved in fuel can save a farmer $5 to $10 in total production costs."
Reprinted with permission from the Ohio State University Extension Service.