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Direct Seeding Reduces Fuel Use By Half

After monitoring fuel use on his Peace River region farm for the past year, John Milne says it does make him think twice about letting the tractor or truck idle too long.

Milne, who is one of 30 Alberta farmers involved in a province-wide fuel measuring project, says it becomes an eye opener just to see how much fuel is being used for different field operations.

Although Milne has only been involved for a year, data from across the province in the first year of the three-year fuel measuring project shows it takes about twice as much fuel for conventional seeding (with tillage) compared to direct seeding. And at harvest you can save about 30 per cent on fuel by straight combining with a stripper header than if you swath and combine later.

Fuel use for specific jobs was an input cost Milne never had a good handle on before, he says. Fuel management was simply a matter of filling up the bulk fuel storage tank as needed, and then filling the tractor fuel tank when heading out for the day.

“And with fuel costs getting higher, it is something we have to pay more attention to,” says Milne, a long-time Gelbvieh breeder and beef producer who farms near Fairview, in Alberta’s central Peace River region.

For the past cropping season, Milne monitored an in-line fuel flow meter on the fuel hose used to fill his John Deere 7410 tractor. He didn’t keep track of fuel used for odd tractor chores around the farmstead. But if he was using the tractor for specific operations such as seeding or baling hay, he kept a record of when he filled the tractor fuel tank, and then recorded amounts used every time he filled up while performing that particular operation. He will continue fuel record keeping through 2011.


Fuel use records collected on Milne’s farm will be added to fuel use data collected from 29 other farmers to provide the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) with a benchmark for fuel use for various farming operations.

“Knowing how much fuel it takes for specific farming operations is an important statistic,” says Janette McDonald, a long time agricultural consultant coordinating the fuel use project on behalf of ARECA. “By establishing benchmarks on how much fuel is used per acre for seeding, or cultivating, or haying, or combining it provides a reference point for improving fuel use efficiency.

“Producers can see, for example, if a tillage operation is costing this much per acre, perhaps changing to a different farming method, could significantly reduce input costs.”

McDonald also says in an era of growing environmental awareness and with more farmers direct seeding, it is important the agriculture industry use all the information it can to demonstrate the value of conservation farming and proper land stewardship.

“This is the first time that anyone has had a serious look at measuring fuel use for different farming activities,” says McDonald. “It is one thing to say as an industry we are concerned about the environment, but we also need to have records to back that up. Through a project like this, we can not only say direct seeding is good for the environment, but also show that reducing or eliminating tillage practices cuts full consumption in half.”

Fifteen Alberta farmers participated in the first year of fuel measuring in 2009, the program was expanded in 2010, and in 2011 about 30 farmers will be keeping track of fuel use.


So how much fuel is being used for various types of farming? In 2009, the fuel-measuring project showed on average it required more than 50 per cent more fuel for conventional seeding (cultivation before seeding) than it did to direct seed.

On average it took 4.21 litres per acre to till the land and then seed the crop, compared to 2.07 litres per acre to direct seed, in a one-pass operation.

At harvest, a two stage system that involved swathing and then combining used on average 4.48 litres of fuel per acre, compared to 3.25 litres per acre to straight cut combine. For even greater fuel efficiency, farmers who used a combine equipped with a stripper header for straight combining crop used 3.13 litres of fuel per acre.

The 2010 data from the fuel measuring project has yet to be calculated. “Once we have three years of data from several thousand acres of different farming activities, we will have a very good benchmark on how much fuel is being used, which will give producers a good reference point on how they can improve fuel efficiency and perhaps reduced input costs on their farms,” says McDonald.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainews. Contacthimat403-592-1964orbyemailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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