Diesel engines are the modern workhorses of the American farm, and the entire agriculture industry. They are involved in the cultivation, harvesting, and transport of every type of agricultural product. From the farm to the international border, many opportunities exist to reduce emissions from tractors, combines, long-haul and short-haul trucks, cargo handling equipment, irrigation pumps, generators, and other engines. Many of these opportunities are good for the environment, and can save money through reduced fuel costs.
The transportation of agricultural products in the Midwest is a significant
source of diesel emissions. The Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative is committed
to working with the agricultural freight industry through the Smartway
Transport Partnership to implement a variety of fuel saving strategies.
Cereal grains alone have the highest total freight flow, rail freight flow and waterway freight flow, in ton-miles, of any commodity in the Upper Midwest. The transportation of agricultural products in the Upper Midwest makes up 138.8 billion ton-miles, or 33.9 percent of the ton-miles for all commodities shipped within this geographic area. Sixty-three percent of all cereal grain is transported by waterborne vessel, 25 percent is transported by rail, and 12 percent by truck (ton-mile). (Reference #1) This has serious implications for our region's air quality.
On the Farm
Diesel engines power most pieces of modern farm equipment. While very efficient, these engines have a significant impact on the air we breathe. Some examples of diesel engines that are found on farms include: tractors, combines, diesel generators and irrigation pumps. The emissions from agricultural equipment can be reduced through a variety of strategies, fuels, and technologies.
Diesel Emission Reduction Opportunities
Diesel engines can be retrofitted with a diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, or other types of EPA or California Resource Board verified retrofit technology to improve air quality and reduce health risks to agricultural workers. Bio-fuels, which could be grown on the same farm on which they are used, are another approach to reduce diesel emissions, and have the added benefits of supporting American farmers and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Farmers can adopt strategies such as Crop Residue Management (CRM), through the use of Conservation-Till or No-Till farming techniques. These strategies allow farmers to cultivate more crops in less time, while substantially lowering their fuel costs. EPA studies show that by switching to a no-till system, a corn farmer on an average-size American farm - about 441 acres - would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 1,122 pounds a year. That's the same as taking 29 cars off the road for an entire year. Using conservation-till could produce emission reductions equal to taking 15 cars off the road for a year.
Region 5 has been working with state and national agricultural associations, private-public partnerships and private industry to reduce diesel emissions from the transportation of agricultural goods through the Smartway Transport Partnership. Shippers and carriers that transport grain and other agricultural products can reduce diesel emissions while saving significant money, which can benefit their bottom line.
Many large agricultural companies have become Smartway Partners, including the Archer Daniels Midland Trucking Company. The program has grown very quickly, in part due to the economic incentive, which improves a company's business performance. Continued efforts will focus on agricultural shippers, carriers, and fertilizer and chemical manufacturing companies.
For more information on MCDI's Agriculture Initiative, a voluntary collaboration between EPA, the freight industry, and the agriculture community designed to increase energy efficiency while significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, please contact Jonathan Nichols at (312) 353-7942 or Steve Rosenthal at (312) 886-6052.
Reference #1: Upper Midwest Freight Corridor Study, March 31 2005
- EPA's Clean Agriculture USA
- National Biodiesel Board's Map of Biodiesel Retail Locations in the United States
- National Association of Conservation Districts
- Conservation Technology Information Center