Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced the release of USDA's Energy Estimator for Nitrogen, a web-based awareness tool that farmers and ranchers can use to identify potential nitrogen (N) cost savings associated with major crops and commercial N fertilizer applications.

"The Energy Estimator for nitrogen provides our nation's producers with another new tool to reduce their energy costs and protect the environment," says Johanns. "Encouraging proper fertilizer management is part of USDA's comprehensive energy strategy to help farmers and ranchers mitigate the impact of high energy costs."

N fertilizer is one of the largest indirect uses of energy on an agricultural operation. Fertilizer accounts for 29 percent of agriculture's energy use, according to USDA research data. Proper management of N fertilizer, including the use of organic sources of N such as animal manure and cover crops, can save producers energy and money.

Using manure instead of petroleum-based fertilizers could reduce costs up to $55/acre, based on February 2006 prices, while adopting management intensive grazing practices can save up to $6.50/acre in energy costs and another $38 in reduced harvest costs. In addition, converting from conventional tillage to no-till can save up to 3.5 gal. of fuel per acre with a current value of $6.83/acre.

The Energy Estimator for Nitrogen estimates savings in N fertilizer applications and use to help farmers and ranchers make practical and sound decisions regarding N fertilizer use on their farm or ranch.

Producers using the Energy Estimator for Nitrogen can select up to four crops from a list of commonly harvested crops in their state. Next, they enter the acres of each crop, pounds or units per acre used for each selected form of N fertilizer, and the N fertilizer price. Finally, producers select the N fertilizer application practices, the timing and placement of the fertilizer application and whether or not they used materials that reduce potential nutrient losses to the environment.

USDA intends for farmers and ranchers to use the Energy Estimator for Nitrogen for guidance rather than as a sole source for decision-making on nitrogen fertilizer application. USDA recommends that farmers and ranchers take their N fertilizer estimates to their local USDA Service Center, Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES) office, or their crop consultant.

Additional information about USDA's Energy Estimator for Nitrogen can be found at http://nfat.sc.egov.usda.gov/.