Reevaluation of energy use in wheat production in the United States

Gerhard Piringer, Laura J. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Energy budgets for agricultural production can be used as building blocks for life-cycle assessments that include agricultural products, and can also serve as a first step toward identifying crop production processes that benefit most from increased efficiency. A general trend toward increased energy efficiency in U.S. agriculture has been reported. For wheat cultivation, in particular, this study updates cradle-to-gate process analyses produced in the seventies and eighties. Input quantities were obtained from official U.S. statistics and other sources and multiplied by calculated or recently published energy coefficients. The total energy input into the production of a kilogram of average U.S. wheat grain is estimated to range from 3.1 to 4.9 MJ/kg, with a best estimate at 3.9 MJ/kg. The dominant contribution is energy embodied in nitrogen fertilizer at 47% of the total energy input, followed by diesel fuel (25%), and smaller contributions such as energy embodied in seed grain, gasoline, electricity, and phosphorus fertilizer. This distribution is reflected in the energy carrier mix, with natural gas dominating (57%), followed by diesel fuel (30%). High variability in energy coefficients masks potential gains in total energy efficiency as compared to earlier, similar U.S. studies. Estimates from an input-output model for several input processes agree well with process analysis results, but the model's application can be limited by aggregation issues: Total energy inputs for generic food grain production were lower than wheat fertilizer inputs alone, possibly due to aggregation of diverse products into the food grain sector.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-167
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Carrier mix
  • Energy balance
  • Grain
  • Input-output model
  • Process analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Social Sciences


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