Using nearly as many British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2012 – roughly equivalent to the primary energy needs of the state of Utah – growing crops and raising livestock is an energy intensive business.
Agricultural energy use includes both direct and indirect energy consumption. Direct consumption, for example, would be the use of diesel, electricity, propane, natural gas, and renewable fuels for activities on the farm. Indirect includes the use of fuel and feedstock in the manufacturing of agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.
According to a recent Energy Information Administration brief, crop operations consume more energy and have higher energy expenditures when compared to livestock operations, mostly due to the indirect energy expenditures on fertilizer.
For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses, EIA says.
The proportion of direct to indirect energy use varies by crop, however. Corn, which is also used as an energy input for ethanol production, has relatively low direct fuel expenditures but has the highest percentage of fertilizer expenditures.
Distillate fuel is the dominant fuel for direct energy consumption for both livestock and crop operations. On crop operations, it is used for crop tilling, harvesting, weed control, and other operations that require heavy machinery.
Crop drying is another fuel-intensive farm activity, and the amount of fuel used varies by the type of crop and its moisture content. High-temperature dryers are powered by either electricity or propane.
Energy use on livestock operations is typically confined to direct energy, which is used by ventilation systems, refrigeration, lighting, watering, heating and waste hauling. The EIA did not consider the energy used in the production of feed that is consumed by livestock.
Supplying water can also be an energy-intensive task. Although some farms have access to public water supplies, most farms pump water from wells and groundwater sources. Most pumping is done with electricity, but pumps in remote locations may use diesel or propane.
Despite being consistent energy consumers, many farms are turning to renewable energy to power on-farm activities. Wind turbines, methane digesters and photovoltaics are the most common on-farm renewables, EIA says.
Renewable energy can help to offset the need for purchased energy. In some cases, the renewable energy produced on farms is sold to electric power suppliers, providing additional income for farmers, EIA says.
Source: Susan Hicks, EIA