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NRCS officials tout Energy Estimator tool
By MEGAN KUHN
Assistant Editor

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — During a conference focused on making energy from agricultural products, officials from the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) urged producers to look at conserving energy as a way to offset rising fuel and fertilizer costs.

“It’s time to look at energy conservation benefits associated with soil, water, air and wildlife conservation,” said Bruce Knight, head of the NRCS. “It’s hard for producers to negotiate lower input prices, the next best thing is conserving energy.”

Knight spoke at the “Energy From Agriculture” conference in St. Louis, Mo. Dec. 14. The conference, sponsored by the Farm Foundation and several USDA groups, including the NRCS, provided producers, rural leaders, energy executives and government officials with practical, science-based information on agriculture’s role in energy production.

“A lot of people will be making hard decisions this winter and will be looking for ways to cut back without risking yields,” Knight said.

Lawrence Clark, deputy chief for science and technology for NRCS said that about 30 percent of agricultural production costs are energy-related, including fuel and fertilizer.

“We can make small changes on a large number of acres and cause great cost savings,” Clark said.

To help producers conserve energy, on Dec. 7 the NRCS launched the Energy Estimator, which is an energy consumption awareness tool focused on tillage. It can be found on the NRCS’s website at http://ecat.sc.egov.usda.gov/

According to the NRCS, this tool concentrates on diesel fuel used in the production of selected crops across common tillage systems in the user’s specific area.

“With a minimum of three clicks of the mouse, producers can determine fuel costs associated with different tillage systems,” Knight said.

He said it was important to get the Energy Estimator up and running this winter.

“December, January and February are the months when producers plan for the next season,” Knight said. “This program can help farmers save energy and save money.

“We want to give farmers ideas on knowledge-based conservation,” he added. “This is something they can implement immediately. There’s no sign-up involved as in many of our other programs.”

As of Dec. 15, the Energy Estimator had more than 5,500 hits (visits to the site), according to Knight.

Producers just need their zip code, crop and acreage information and estimated fuel cost to get estimates on actual fuel costs for different tillage systems. Some of the tillage systems include conventional tillage, mulch-till, strip-till and no-till.

“We want to give producers their options and drive them to their local NRCS offices for more help,” Clark said. “We will continue to enhance the tools, add more options. As feedback from producers comes in, we will add to it.”

The site’s fuel use estimates are based on average field and equipment conditions, average fertilizer and pesticide applications, and normal crop yields, according to the NRCS website.

“They do not include: fuel use associated with trips to fields and farm-to-market transport, irrigation, and grain drying. They also do not consider differences in fuel use associated with crop yields, soil texture, slope, field size and shape, implement width, tractor size, tire inflation or driving techniques. Your actual fuel use may vary significantly from the value presented,” the website stated.

For assistance running this tool contact your local NRCS field staff. “This is just the beginning,” Knight promised. “We’ll keep building on this tool.”

Other tools planned
Other NRCS tools being built at the present time include one for estimating and comparing energy consumption across different nutrient management systems and another for different irrigation systems, according to Clark.

“Our goal is to provide producers with decision-support tools,” he said.

Both Clark and Knight said that feedback is critical to the success of these tools. They encourage producers who use the web tool to provide comments under the “Feedback” area of the site.

Published in the December 21, 2005 issue of Farm World.

12/21/2005