Corn+Soybean Digest
Cut energy and save yields

Cut energy and save yields

Think Different Ask yourself these energy-savvy questions: Have you analyzed diesel fuel use per row-crop acre? How much of your energy use adds profit? How much propane do you use to dry 1,000 bushels? What percent of a bushel did you lose in moisture discount? Yes, fuel prices are down. But you can save more by making energy-wise decisions, based on this on-farm research in multiple Iowa locations.

Save $5,700 to $11,100 annually by combining these fuel-saving ideas from Mark Hanna, Iowa State University (ISU) ag and biosystems engineer:

  • Eliminate one primary tillage pass or two secondary tillage passes to potentially save $2,600 to $5,300 annually (at 1.5 gallon per acre fuel savings and a 1,000-acre farm, based on ISU research. These estimates are conservative, given that they reflect a $3.50 per gallon diesel price).
  • Some of the best fuel savings come from shallower tillage, with no yield cost. Tilling 18 inches deep compared to 9 inches deep in continuous corn almost doubled fuel use, with no yield difference.
  • Shifting to a higher gear while maintaining road travel speed saves you 18% to 34% in fuel, or $1,050 to $2,500 per year on a 1,000-acre farm. “Running at 2,100 rpm for reserve power wastes quite a bit of fuel,” Hanna says.
  • Shifting up to reduce engine rpms during fieldwork saves from 18% to 32% in fuel while field cultivating, strip-tilling and stalk-chopping, yet with no impact on the soil.
  • Decreasing disking depth from 5 inches to 3 inches saves 6% to 7% in fuel.
  • Selecting a fuel-efficient tractor can save $1,000 annually in operating costs. Tractor fuel-use estimates are available at bit.ly/tractortestsISU (pdf).
  • Proper tire inflation and optimal ballasting is worth $500 to $1,800 annually in fuel savings.
  • Tillage depth cuts fuel economy much more than does field speed.

 

Grain-drying tips

  • Finish drying the last 1% to 1.5% points of grain moisture without heated air if possible. This translates to $7,900 annual propane savings on a 1,000-acre farm with $2 LP gas.
  • Each 1% of grain moisture costs 0.015 to 0.02 gallons of LP gas per bushel of corn to dry.
  • Operate the grain dryer on fan-only until grain moisture content drops to 17% to 19%; then turn on the burner.
  • Consider selecting an early-season corn hybrid suited to your area. In years when corn needs to be dried, it will usually be 2% to 2.5% lower in grain moisture.  Consider yield effects, but don’t assume yield is always greater with full-season hybrids. In 2009–10, yield averages of early-season hybrids were higher in four of six test regions in Iowa Crop Improvement Association tests. (Hybrids were chosen specifically for each location.)
  • Calibrate your moisture meter and grain dryer to avoid ¾ point overdrying. This will potentially save $4,700 annually on a 1,000-acre operation.

Resources

Watch the video “Tips for saving fuel, energy on the farm,” featuring Mark Hanna. More of his team’s energy-saving ideas and case studies, plus an energy log, are at http://farmenergy.exnet.iastate.edu or at Twitter, @ISU_Farm_Energy.

 

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