Reducing the amount of tillage conducted in fields reduces the amount of diesel fuel used and cuts operating costs. This makes sense. But have you actually figured out how much you could reduce fuel costs by converting to mulch till, ridge till or no-till?

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed an online tool to do just this. It is quick and simple to use. Go to the Energy Estimator webpage. Type in your ZIP code and click Next. Then, enter the number of acres you plant of corn, soybeans, oats, sugarbeets and winter wheat, and, finally, the price you are currently paying for diesel fuel. Click Next and you will get two tables with estimates of how many gallons of fuel you can save (Table 1) and how many dollars you save (Table 2).

For this example, I plugged in my ZIP code and 100 acres each of corn, soybeans, sugarbeets and winter wheat. The last time I filled my fuel tank I paid $3.23 per gallon – this does not include state and federal taxes. From Table 1 you can see that switching to no-till would save 1,218 gallons (51 percent) on these 400 acres of crops.

Table 1. Estimated diesel fuel consumption for different cropping systems – total gallons.

Crop Acres Conventional till Mulch till Ridge till No till
Corn 100 604 527 359 326
Soybeans - wide row 100 523 * 359 246
Sugarbeets 100 765 662  *  383
Wheat - winter 100 519 431  *  238
Total fuel use (gal)   2,411 1,620 718 1,193
Potential fuel savings over conventional tillage (gal/year) 268 409 1,218
Savings     14% 36% 51%

*Indicates tillage type is not compatible with cropping system.

There is a nice feature that allows you to update the diesel fuel price right on this output page. Using my example of $3.23 per gallon, I could save $3,934 on these 400 acres of crops. To update the price, simply type in what you think the price of fuel will be for next season and click Recalculate.

Table 2. Cost estimate of diesel fuel based on $3.23 per gallon.

Crop Acres Conventional till Mulch till Ridge till No till
Corn 100 $1,950 $1,702 $1,159 $1,052
Soybeans - wide row 100 $1,692 * $1,159 $794
Sugar beets 100 $2,470 $2,138 * $1,237
Wheat - winter 100 $1,676 $1,395 * $768
Total fuel cost   $7,788 $5,233 $2,319 $3,853
Potential annual fuel savings over conventional tillage     $866 $1,321 $3,934

*Indicates tillage type is not compatible with cropping system.

You can also obtain more details about how each number was calculated by clicking Details next to each crop. This could be a useful tool in estimating fuel costs for next season or making comparisons of fuel costs between crops.

See more NRCS energy estimating tools, including animal housing, irrigation, nitrogen and grain drying.

For questions or comments, please contact Michigan State University Extension’s Dennis Pennington at or 269-838-8265.