Introduction to Farm Equipment Energy Efficiency


Photo: Jason Johnson, NRCS.

Farms have lots of equipment, and most of it uses energy. In some cases, increasing the efficiency of a single piece of equipment or an operation can result in significant energy savings, especially over time. In other situations, many small improvements in efficiency and conservation across the farm can add up to meaningful reductions in energy use and operating costs.

In field-crop based agriculture, liquid fuel use in field operations is equivalent to fertilizers and pesticides as the two largest consumers of energy on U.S. farms (1). Substantial fossil fuel-derived energy in the form of electricity is also required by electric motors for cooling and heating.

These practices have been shown to minimize fuel use:

  • selecting the proper tractor and equipment, travel and engine speed,
  • reducing the number of field operations (i.e., reduced-till farming, etc.),
  • reducing tillage depth, and
  • properly adjusting and maintaining tractor and harvesting equipment.

Simple adjustments such as keeping tractor tires properly inflated/ballasted to improve tractive efficiency and reducing turning/down time can go a long way toward saving fuel and improving overall field efficiency. Replacing clogged air/fuel filters and cleaning injectors can also reduce fuel use. On grain dryers, ventilation equipment, and associated electric motors, these practices can significantly improve equipment and energy efficiency:

  • lubricating motors;
  • replacing rusty motors, corroded parts, and worn bearings;
  • tightening drive belts; and
  • cleaning dirty fans.
Image: Scott Sanford, University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Dairy farms rely heavily on electricity, mostly for collecting and cooling milk, heating water, lighting, and ventilation. In addition to motor maintenance, a dairy operation can double efficiency and lower expenses by 50% to 80% by installing a variable speed drive on vacuum pumps that use sensors to measure the vacuum level and then adjusts the motor speed to meet the air flow demand. Plate coolers – simple heat exchangers that take the heat from warm milk and transfer it to cold well- or pipe-water – are also excellent energy savers and provide hot water for the farm. Large savings accrue over the long term when new or replacement equipment is selected for energy efficiency.

Photo: George Hecht.

Energy savings can be found in:

  • efficient field equipment use;
  • adjustments, cleaning, and maintenance 

    of equipment; and

  • thoughtful planning to select new or replacement equipment for the most efficient energy use.


  1. Schnepf, R. 2004. Energy Use in Agriculture: Background and Issues. CRS Report for Congress.


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