USDA has released a new Energy Estimator for Nitrogen. It’s a Web-based awareness tool that producers can use to identify potential nitrogen cost savings associated with major crops and commercial nitrogen fertilizer applications.

Nitrogen fertilizer is a large indirect energy user within agricultural operations. Fertilizer accounts for 29 percent of agriculture’s energy use, according to USDA research. Managing nitrogen fertilizer, including the use of organic nitrogen sources such as animal manure and cover crops, can save producers energy and money.

Using manure instead of petroleum-based fertilizers could reduce costs up to $55 per acre (based on February 2006 prices). Adopting management-intensive grazing practices can save up to $6.50 per acre in energy costs and another $38 in reduced harvest costs.

Converting from conventional tillage to no-till can save up to 3.5 gallons of fuel per acre— or for example,  $6.83 per acre. Nationwide, reducing application overlap on 250 million acres of cropland could save up to $750 million in fertilizer and pesticide costs annually. Doubling the use of manure-based nitrogen fertilizer to replace fertilizer produced from natural gas could save an additional $750 million and 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually.         

Producers using the Energy Estimator for Nitrogen can select up to four crops from a list of those commonly harvested in their state. They then enter the acres of each crop, the pounds or units per acre used for each type of nitrogen fertilizer and the nitrogen fertilizer price. Producers also select the nitrogen fertilizer application practices—fertilizer application timing and placement, and whether they used materials to reduce potential nutrient losses to the environment.

USDA wants producers to use the Energy Estimator for guidance rather than as a sole decision-making source for nitrogen fertilizer usage. For that, producers should consult with the local USDAServiceCenter, Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service office or a crop consultant.

You can find more information about USDA’s Energy Estimator for Nitrogen at the following Web site, http://nfat.sc.egov.usda.gov/.