C magazine

Dialing in on diesel

Scott Henry, LongView Farms

Scott Henry, Nevada, Iowa, has focused on fuel economy to control costs for his farming operation.

Mar 22, 2019

The U.S. has become a dominant energy producer. Our nation’s oil production is at its highest level on record and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that volume will continue to increase.

And more crude oil is being turned into diesel fuel than ever before. From 2017 to 2018, domestic diesel production showed 6 percent growth and refineries continue to get more from every barrel of crude oil.

That is good news for farmers, who rely on a steady supply of diesel fuel to power equipment. But while overall consumption is increasing, U.S. diesel consumption in agriculture is dropping. So where are these gallons going?

Ag Relies Less on Diesel

Despite the reliance on diesel fuel across American farms and ranches, diesel consumption has remained relatively at for more than 30 years among agricultural consumers. In 2016, on-farm diesel use accounted for less than 5 percent of total diesel consumption in the U.S., a drop from 8 percent as recently as the mid-1980s.

Diesel Demand Graph 

The decline is largely due to two key technological advances, says Matt Mohs, vice president of refined fuels marketing at CHS. “First, every piece of new equipment is more fuel-efficient than the previous year’s model. Second, advances in precision ag mean fewer passes across the field.”

Scott Henry has seen the impact of efficiency-focused technology firsthand at LongView Farms, his family’s 8,000-acre corn and soybean operation in central Iowa. “Through new technology, we have better data that shows us where we can be more efficient on the field, which allows us to eliminate passes or combine crop-input applications,” he says.

Scott Henry viewing phone 

Scott Henry, left, and Chris Nady, certified energy specialist with Key Cooperative, monitor fuel use to manage on-farm delivery and control input costs.

That data comes from Chris Nady, Henry’s certified energy specialist at Key Cooperative. “By monitoring fuel use, we saw LongView Farms cut its on-farm fuel use by 5 percent on a per-acre basis over the past few years,” says Nady.

This is due not only to new technology, but to using equipment in smarter ways. “By using a larger cultivator, for example, we can lower our total fuel costs because the tractor pulling it is working harder per acre, allowing us to consume less fuel per acre,” says Henry.

Shifting Focus

One sector is putting more diesel in tanks: over-the-road trucking, which accounts for two-thirds of diesel use in the U.S. “The trucking industry follows the economy, and our economy through most of 2018 remained strong,” says Patrick Hessini, vice president of CHS Transportation.

U.S. truck tonage graph 

Since 2000, the volume of goods transported by truck in the U.S. — truck tonnage — has grown by 41 percent. More than 70 percent of all freight is transported by truck, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In 2017, an estimated 15.5 million trucks were in operation in the U.S., with most owned by small businesses — 80 percent of trucking companies have fewer than seven trucks each. 

Given the increase in trucks and miles on the road, fuel is the second largest expense for trucking companies, eclipsed only by labor costs, says Hessini. “While fuel efficiency improvements have an effect, there are simply just more trucks on the road consuming fuel,” says Hessini.

U.S. diesel use stats 

The demand for increased fleet capacity has extended to farms. Ten years ago, LongView Farms began transporting its grain and soybeans by semitruck. Today the operation runs a five-truck fleet. “We’ve focused on growing our fleet because the faster we can move product, the less risk we have for Mother Nature to take bushels away from us,” says Henry. “We’ve invested in equipment that allows us to move harvested crops as efficiently as possible.”

Meeting Demand

The journey to meet fuel demand begins at America’s refineries. While many refineries make significantly more gasoline than diesel, the CHS refineries in Laurel, Mont., and McPherson, Kan., are engineered to focus on diesel.

“Our owners require diesel fuel,” says John Traeger, senior vice president, CHS Refineries, Pipelines and Terminals. “We’ve made major capital investments across our two refineries to produce an almost even split between gasoline and diesel to meet the needs of rural America.”

Diesel produced by CHS refineries passes through terminals on its way to the pump and on-farm bulk tanks. At the terminal, seven key additives are added to boost performance in Cenex® premium diesel fuels: Cenex Ruby Fieldmaster® for off-road equipment and Cenex Roadmaster XL® for on-road vehicles.

Additive Influence chart 

These additives allow equipment to have a more complete burn. “Investing in a quality fuel we know we can depend on helps us get the most out of our equipment,” says Henry, whose operation also relies on automated fuel delivery (AFD) from his co-op. “Thanks to AFD and Key Co-op, we don’t ever have to worry about running out of fuel and we can use fuel contracts to manage price.

“My family’s business simply would not be possible without quality diesel fuel,” says Henry. “Buying the best diesel and using our over-the-road and farm equipment as smart as we can helps us get the most from every gallon.”



With the right diesel fuel, drivers and equipment operators see increased uptime and fewer breakdowns. But what’s the difference between different diesel types?

Standard #1 and #2 Diesel

Diesel fuel comes in two grades: #1 and #2. Both of these diesel types have no additives, which may affect engine performance.

TOP TIER™ Diesel

While TOP TIER gasoline has been available since 2004, TOP TIER diesel fuel wasn’t introduced until 2017. Although the standard requires addition of detergents and a lubricity improver, it may not be enough for equipment running in the toughest conditions. “TOP TIER diesel is an improvement over a standard diesel, but for heavy-duty service it might not go far enough to protect equipment and prevent downtime,” says Ron Jessen, premium diesel product development director for CHS.

Premium Diesel

There are no mandated requirements to use the term “premium,” but for the Cenex® brand from CHS, premium diesel means a more complete additive package for a more complete burn. Cenex Roadmaster XL® and Cenex Ruby Fieldmaster® feature seven additives that keep equipment running better longer, including detergents that increase fuel efficiency by up to 4.5 percent and a cetane improver that reduces maintenance and downtime.



Semitrucks driving on highway

When it comes to equipment life, the fuel you use is one key way to minimize downtime and keep machinery running its best. Follow these tips for peak performance: 

DO treat your fuel differently in the winter. Paraffin is a naturally occurring waxy substance in #2 diesel fuel. Under normal conditions, the wax stays liquid and is harmless. But in cold temperatures, the wax solidifies and can clog filters and stall engines. This process is called gelling and it starts to occur at a temperature called the cloud point; #2 diesel fuel has a cloud point of 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

An additive called a cold flow improver (CFI) dissolves the bonds in paraffin wax and helps prevent gelling. Cenex® Wintermaster® and seasonally enhanced Cenex Roadmaster XL® and Cenex Ruby Fieldmaster® premium diesel fuels include a CFI in its complete additive package.

DO take care of your fuel tank. Without regular maintenance, a fuel tank can take on water, rust, dirt and even algae. These contaminants degrade fuel and can lead to serious downtime due to fuel pump failure or fuel injector plugging. Work with your fuel supplier to inspect each tank every season, especially during spring and fall.

DO invest in your equipment by using premium diesel. Cenex premium diesel has seven additives added at the terminal for the most complete fuel package. Minimize downtime, improve fuel economy and keep your equipment on the road and in the field longer with premium diesel fuels such as Cenex Roadmaster XL and Ruby Fieldmaster.

DON'T take chances with diesel engine oil. The right lubricant can help achieve maximum fuel efficiency. A full synthetic diesel engine oil such as Cenex Maxtron
® Enviro-EDGE® improves fuel economy by up to 2 percent in normal conditions and by up to 3 percent during cold starts.

DON'T ignore the owner’s manual. It’s important to follow the maintenance schedule recommended by the equipment manufacturer.


Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.