It’s the great give-and-take of farming – food is fuel once it’s grown, but food requires fuel to grow. And not just sunlight and water, either – it takes a tremendous amount of fuels, lubricants, electricity and fertilizer to raise a crop.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported that the U.S. agriculture industry used nearly 800 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2012. That’s approximately as much primary energy as the entire state of Utah.
“Energy makes up a significant part of operating expenditures for most crops, especially when considering indirect energy expenditures on fertilizer, because the production of fertilizer is extremely energy-intensive, requiring large amounts of natural gas,” says EIA analyst Susan Hicks. “For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses.”
According to the a 2013 Agricultural Resource Management Survey, rice is the most energy-intensive row crop to produce, followed by peanuts, cotton and corn. Crops that require the least amount of fuel and fertilizer to grow include oats, wheat and sorghum.
Farmers aren’t necessarily only energy consumers, Hicks adds. Many are producing their own energy using various renewable energy sources.
“Wind turbines, methane digesters, and photovoltaics are the most common on-farm renewables,” she 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.”
For a closer look at the different ways farmers and ranchers consume energy, visit http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=18431.