Crops Consume More Energy than Livestock

October 20, 2014 By Karen Henry

EIA-crops-livestock-energy-manageThe US agriculture industry used nearly 800 trillion Btu of energy in 2012. According to an analysis from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), crop operations consume much more energy than livestock operations, and energy expenditures for crops account for a higher percentage of farm operating costs.

Agricultural energy consumption includes direct and indirect energy consumption. Direct energy consumption includes the use of diesel, electricity, propane, natural gas and renewable fuels for activities on the farm. Indirect energy consumption includes the use of fuel and feedstock in the manufacturing of agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.

The production of fertilizer requires large amounts of natural gas and is extremely energy-intensive. For some crops like oats, corn, wheat, and barley, energy and fertilizer expenditures combined make up more than half of total operating expenses. The proportion of direct to indirect energy use varies by crop. For example, corn, which is also used as an energy input for ethanol production, has relatively low direct fuel expenditures but has the highest percentage of fertilizer expenditures.

The energy consumed in livestock operations is almost solely direct energy consumption and is relatively low compared with crop operations, both as a percentage of total operating expenditures and on a total energy basis. Livestock operations consume direct energy for ventilation systems, refrigeration, lighting, heating, watering, motors and waste handling, whereas crop operations use energy to plant, harvest, irrigate and dry crops.

EIA did not include the energy consumed in the production of livestock feed in its analysis.

5 comments on “Crops Consume More Energy than Livestock

  1. It would have been great, if the energy consumption of feed-production was included in the analysis. It is hard to imagine a livestock without feed.

  2. What a ludicrously deceptive article! And the ‘study’ by the EIA is hardly any better!

    Consider this: just 55 percent of the world’s crop calories are actually eaten directly by people. Another 36 percent is used for animal feed. And the remaining 9 percent goes toward biofuels and other industrial uses. (source:

    The proportions are even more striking in the United States, where just 27 percent of crop calories are consumed directly by people. By contrast, more than 67 percent of crops — particularly all the soy grown in the Midwest — goes to animal feed. And a portion of the rest goes to ethanol and other biofuels.

    Some of that animal feed eventually becomes food, obviously — but it’s a much, much more indirect process. It takes about 100 calories of grain to produce just 12 calories of chicken or 3 calories worth of beef, for instance.

    In light of the above, let’s just use the U.S. figures to adjust the EIA conclusions. Transferring 67% of the crop energy cost to the livestock energy cost category; entirely reverses the conclusions. Now, the energy cost to produce livestock completely swanps that used to produce crops directly consumed by humans – 163 trillion BTU for human-consumed crops versus a whopping 627 trillion BTUs used to support livestock! Livestock that produces just a fraction of the human calories that the wasted crops would have provided.

  3. You will lose any credibility if you publish this a a “study” on energy. At best it is a analysis on direct operating costs for farmers.

  4. This article obviously rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I agree that it would have been more accurate if the EIA had included the energy in feed-production in the “livestock” part of its equation. Also, it’s kind of sad that so much energy is attributed to fertilizers and pesticides in the “crop” part of the equation. Fritz, to your point, we didn’t publish this story as a “study” but just as an analysis from EIA with a link to their information.

    • Having looked into this a bit further, there is even more to my concern than meets the eye at first glance.

      The original EIA link is titled “Energy for growing and harvesting crops is a large component of farm operating costs”; and that title backs up the comment by Fritz that the focus appears to be on direct farm operating costs. The EIA analysis is seen to be a proper summation of all energy costs associated with farming – crops and livestock included.

      What is troubling is that Energy Manager picked up the story but re-cast it as a comparison between crop and livestock energy consumption. The Energy Manager article title of “Crops Consume More Energy than Livestock” is clearly worded to be a comparison between the two energy costs – and Energy Manager incorrectly interpreted the EIA study to falsely conclude that the greater energy cost is associated with crops.

      Doesn’t Energy Manager have an obligation to present the true facts? And doesn’t that obligation demand a more careful analysis of the sources from which their articles are drawn? I do applaud Energy Manager for at least noting that livestock feed production was not included in the livestock energy cost category. But that does not excuse the article title…

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