Energy Conservation in Corn Production

AGF-102
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
04/15/2016
Donald J. Eckert, Professor, Agronomy Dept., Energy Conservation

Corn production is heavily reliant on energy inputs for its continuing success. Tillage and harvesting operations, and drying require direct energy inputs in the form of fuels, while nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from natural gas and petroleum, respectively. Energy conservation will play a key role in controlling rising production costs.

The key to any energy conservation program is to increase the amount of product per BTU used. The following tips should aid in making corn production more energy efficient.

  1. Use soil tests correctly. Know which nutrients are limiting and correct any deficiencies. A balanced fertility program is an efficient one. Deficiency in ONE nutrient will limit plant growth and other inputs will not be used efficiently.
  2. Choose a good hybrid, one that yields well, resists disease, and which will mature in your region. A good hybrid uses energy inputs efficiently and provides greater yield for every BTU which goes into its production.
  3. Plant on time. Corn makes best use of the Ohio growing season when planted in April or very early May. This practice also reduces the effect of yield-cutting moisture stress in July and August. The results of timely planting are higher yields and drier crops at harvest.
  4. Drain wet fields. This will allow for earlier planting, provide a better soil environment for germination and growth, and reduce nitrogen loss by denitrification.
  5. Reduce tillage. Conservation tillage practices are applicable on many Ohio soils. Unnecessary tillage wastes time and fuel, with no yield improvement. Eliminating moldboard plowing can save two gallons of diesel fuel per acre.
  6. Grow corn in rotation with a forage legume. Legume stands can provide large amounts of N for corn production. A good alfalfa stand can provide all the N necessary for the succeeding corn crop, and a portion of the N needed the following year.
  7. Use pesticides wisely. Know your weed and insect problems. Use herbicides and insecticides, but no more than are needed. Each pound of active pesticide contains the energy equivalent of approximately 0.6 gallons of diesel fuel. Integrated Pest Management programs can be a big help in this area. Consider planting an insect resistant hybrid if you have a history of insect problems to help reduce or eliminate the use of insecticides.
  8. Harvest at lower moisture content. The sun will handle a portion of your drying for free provided you have planted a hybrid with good stalk strength. Choose hybrids on the basis of Growing Degree Day ratings to ensure timely maturity and to help plan your harvesting schedule.
  9. Maintain equipment. Properly maintained engines will consume less fuel. Follow engine manufacturers recommendations for filter and fluid changes. Inflate tires to pressures appropriate for the load. Improperly inflated tires may increase wheel slip and waste fuel. Calibrate grain dryer moisture meters to ensure you are not over drying grain.
  10. Consider renewable energy. Using renewable energy such as solar or wind power to generate electricity may help reduce overall energy costs.

This publication was prepared and funded through a cooperative effort of the Ohio Department of Energy, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension.

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