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How much fuel does your farm use for different management operations?

Jodie Bowling1, Nicolyn Short1, Glen Riethmuller1, James Fisher2 and Moin U. Salam1*

1Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia.:
Muresk Institute, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia. *Contact email:


Pressures on farm profitability due to increasing energy costs are likely to increase, driven by higher oil prices associated with oil depletion and the increasing global demand for the resource. The direct cost of fuel and lubricants to Australian farms is already substantial, accounting for about 9% of the total costs according to ABARE. Information about fuel use in agricultural systems exists in various forms and locations, but is not easily accessible to farm decision-makers. There is a need to collate, integrate and synthesise this information into a useable format. The “Farm Fuel Calculator” is aimed to serve this purpose by allowing farmers to compare paddocks, crops, soil types and management options. Charged with this information farmers and advisers will be able to evaluate options on a truly comparative basis and make informed decisions about ways to decrease the fuel consumption of their enterprises. The calculator is built up in the form of a spreadsheet that will enable a user to select various farm management options (e.g. spreading, sowing, harvesting and transport) for the crop and animal components of a farm enterprise. The calculator is designed to assess the internal fuel usage on the farm and express it in terms of fuel use and cost. The direct benefit to producers and the industry will come through the potential for decreasing the cost of production by reducing the use of fuel. In addition, changes in fuel use will potentially help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through decreased inputs and hence lowered greenhouse gas production.


Farm fuel calculator, fuel consumption, profitability, management options


Many WA farm businesses have a system that increasingly revolves around cropping, an enterprise which when compared to a livestock enterprise, significantly relies on fuel and transport services, increasing many farmers dependency on oil prices (Kingwell and Plunkett, 2006). The increase in fuel prices driven by increasing global demand has meant that there has not only been an increase in the cost of major on-farm operations, such as crop establishment and harvesting, but an increase in the cost of transporting agricultural products and inputs (e.g. grain, animals, fertilisers, etc.) by all forms of transport (e.g. road, rail, sea and air) (Kingwell and Plunkett, 2006). In 2005, a Rabo Bank Rural Confidence Survey highlighted that increased fuel prices were having a large negative impact on farm businesses, with 47% of respondents nationally indicating that an increase in fuel price was negatively affecting profitability (Rabo Bank, 2005). However, not only do farmers have to deal with rising input costs, due to the increased prices and competition for oil, they are also faced with climate change and the decrease in rainfall in recent years. This reduction in rainfall has resulted in lower crop yields, highlighting the need for farmers to reduce the overall input costs.

The direct cost of fuel and lubricants on Australian farms is already substantial, at around 9% of total farm costs, a figure comparable to the cost of other inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals (ABARE, 2006). As the percentage of total farm costs spent on fuel and lubricants rises, the export-orientated nature of most farm businesses has many farmers believing they will not be able to directly and fully pass on all increased costs of production (Kingwell and Plunkett, 2006). While alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, show some promise as substitutes for oil-based fuels, there will not be one alternative for all purposes.

The use of oil-based fuels in agricultural practices results in the emission of carbon, methane and nitrous oxides, all of which can have a detrimental effect on the environment. In terms of global emissions, modern processes in agriculture (e.g. machinery and fertiliser use) are believed to be responsible for 25% of carbon dioxide, 65% of methane and 90% of nitrous oxide (Greenwood, 2006). Sources of carbon dioxide include burning fossil fuels, tillage, biomass burning and land degradation, sources of methane include rice and livestock production and sources of nitrous oxide emissions include manure, tillage and fertiliser use. However there may be the opportunity to sequester carbon in soil by altering these practices. This may include decreased tillage and efficient use of fertilisers and irrigation which can result in a reduction of fuel use, agricultural inputs and carbon emissions associated with fuel and chemical use. This will not only provide farmers with a chance to reduce their fuel use and hence reduce their costs, but also decrease their impact on the environment.

Information about fuel use in agricultural systems exists in various forms and locations, but not generally in a form that is easily accessible to farm decision-makers or advisers. As a result there is a need to collate, integrate and synthesise this information into a useable format. Along with this, there is little information available on fuel use in different farm operations. The ‘Farm Fuel Calculator’ is aimed to serve this purpose by allowing farmers to compare paddocks, crops, soil types and management options. Charged with this information, farmers and advisers will be able to evaluate options on a comparative basis and make informed decisions about ways, if any, in which they can decrease the fuel consumption of their enterprises. It also aims to increase awareness of the dependence many current agricultural systems have on oil-based products. In addition, changes in fuel use will potentially help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through decreased inputs and hence lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This paper presents the concept, construction and structure of the simple and easy-to-use ‘Farm Fuel Calculator’.



The ‘Farm Fuel Calculator’ has been constructed to provide farmers with an electronic estimator that enables them to calculate the amount of fuel used in both their crop and livestock enterprises. The calculator is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that allows users to enter general information about their farm and more specific information about their crop and livestock systems and the management options they choose. A Microsoft Excel spreadsheet was selected because of its wider availability and its familiarity to general users.


The initial workings and calculations were derived from a number of previously conducted studies. Many of the core calculations were based on work by Riethmuller (1988) where the effect of depth and speed on draft and estimated fuel consumption was measured. The paper also looked at the tractor power required of several tillage implements (disc plough, scarifier, combine, subsoiler and cultivator) over a range of soils. Carbon emissions calculations are based on ‘Greenhouse gas emissions calculator’ (DEWHA, 2008). As more current measurements become available they will be included in the model.


The ‘Farm Fuel Calculator’ contains a number of input worksheets where farmers enter information, including a unit convertor worksheet, two worksheets on the crop and pasture enterprise and a worksheet on transport. There is also an example worksheet, and three output worksheets consisting of two summary worksheets which detail what information the user has entered and a fuel comparison worksheet that details the fuel use per hectare and overall fuel use and cost.


Crop and Pasture Worksheets

These two worksheets allow users to enter specific information about their farm business for either the crop or livestock enterprise, or both. The ‘Crop’ worksheet asks the user to enter general information such as what crop they plan to sow, the clay content of the paddock, whether they use tramlines and the crop area. They are also asked information regarding pre- and post-emergent spraying, spreading, cultivation (no till, one cultivator or deep ripper), seeding (disc or tine) and harvesting (hay production, swathing or harvesting). Some of this information includes tractor power, type and speed, boom width, seeding depth, soil texture (soft, tilled or firm), harvest cut height and straw toughness. The ‘Pasture’ worksheet asks the user to enter similar information on pre- and post-emergent spraying and seeding.

Transport Worksheet

The ‘Transport’ worksheet allows users to enter specific information about the vehicles they use both on- and off-farm (e.g. ute, rigid or articulated truck). The worksheet asks the user to enter information on the total number of kilometres driven per season and the fuel efficiency of each vehicle.



Options summary worksheets

These two worksheets, the ‘Options Summary – Crop’ and the ‘Options Summary – Pasture’ summarise the data entered by the use for each management option in the crop and livestock enterprises. For instance, in the ‘Options Summary – Pasture’ worksheet the six paddocks show the details of the management practices that are being carried out (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A snap shot of the ‘Options Summary – Pasture’ worksheet which summarises the information that the farmer has entered in the ‘Farm Fuel Calculator’.

Fuel use comparison worksheet

The ‘Fuel Use Comparison’ worksheet is a concise summary of the fuel use in each farm process and a comparison of different scenarios. The worksheet also shows a comparison between the crop and pasture phases and provides an estimate of the total amount of fuel used. The total cost of fuel consumption and an estimate of the total carbon emissions as a result of the fuel use are also shown. For example, Figure 2 shows two different management practices for both the crop and pasture phase. In terms of the cropping phase, the fuel comparison worksheet shows that the wheat grown in paddock 1 is sprayed pre- and post emergent, is uncultivated and harvested, suggesting a low level of fuel consumption. On the other hand it shows that the canola grown in paddock 2 is also sprayed pre- and post emergent but is deep ripped, increasing its fuel consumption compared to paddock one. To complete the fuel use comparison section the worksheet calculates the overall fuel use and cost for the paddock, taking into account the area of the paddock and the current price of fuel. This fuel use is then converted into the amount of carbon (kg) produced from the management practices carried out in the paddock. As a result, Figure 2 shows that the total fuel use (L/ha) is more than twice as high in the crop phase Paddock 2 (25.84) than Paddock 1 (11.38). However the total fuel use per paddock (total L/ha by area) is more than three times as much (Paddock 2 = 1551 L and Paddock 1 = 455 L) due to the larger size of paddock 2.


A number of the parameters of the algorithms, used in the calculator, were derived from Western Australian data. It is expected, however, that the calculator could be applied to all Australian broad-acre farming systems given that soil physical characteristics and agricultural machineries are not significantly different between the states. A plan is underway to test the calculator in other states of Australia. Field testing under farm situations revels that the calculator closely predicts the fuel use scenarios for different farm enterprises and operations, except for hay production. Effort is underway to improve prediction of fuel use under various aspects of hay production. The calculator is available from the Department of Agriculture Western Australia (contact email:

Figure 2. A snap shot of the ‘Fuel Comparison’ worksheet which shows estimated fuel use for each management option and paddock for both crop and pasture phases and the total fuel use, cost and carbon emission.


As fuel and energy costs climb, pressures on farm profitability continue to increase dramatically, creating the need for a tool that provides farmers with an estimated farm fuel use and assists them in decisions regarding farm management. This calculator is designed to serve this purpose. It is now available for farmers and advisers.


Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) for funding this research.


ABARE (2006). Farm Costs and Returns – Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics.

DEWHA (2008).

Greenwood, N. (2006). Food Carbon Footprint Calculator – Carbon Emissions. Available at:

Kingwell, R. and Plunkett, B. (2006). Economics of On-Farm Biofuel Production. Invited paper presented at the conference Bioenergy and Biofuels, 10th February 2006. Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia.

Rabo Bank (2005). Rural Confidence Survey. Available at:

Riethmuller, G.P. (1988). Draft Requirements of Tillage Equipment in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. Conference of Agricultural Engineering. Hawksbury Agricultural College, New South Wales.

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