The Durand rice and crawfish farm in St. Martin Parish, La., has realized considerable savings by converting diesel pumps to electric units. Jeff Durand, who farms with brothers C.J. and Greg, said an energy audit determined that by converting all pumps on the farm to electricity they could realize a 58 percent savings, assuming a diesel price of $2.50 a gallon.

This year, the Durands have roughly 900 acres of rice and plan to have almost 300 acres of soybeans.

The farmers have already converted four pumps from diesel engines to electric motors, ranging from 15 horsepower to 40 horsepower, and they continue to run six diesel-fueled pumps. They hope to replace three of the diesel engines with electric motors by next year.

Ron Sheffield, LSU AgCenter irrigation specialist, said the diesel-to-electric conversion could pay for itself in 14 months at current diesel prices. Sheffield said electric companies in south Louisiana are willing to allow farmers several years to pay for the cost of installing electrical service systems, but north Louisiana utilities aren’t willing to spread out the cost.

The Durands use surface water from canals. That source has several inherent problems including silt buildup in the waterways. Jeff Durand said deep wells would cost more and require more power to extract water.

The Durands produce rice and crawfish in their fields. They use boats with Go-Devil motors to avoid rutting fields.

“Because we use no-till and produce crawfish, we do have more of an aquatic weed problem, so we have to spend more money on herbicides,” said Jeff Durand.

Greg Durand said, with no effective chemical controls, burrhead is the operation’s biggest headache.

While the Durands use a no-till approach, they keep their land laser-leveled, which explains occasional red rice outbreaks. On the other hand, organic matter has increased — from 1 to 1.5 percent 20 years ago to the current 4 percent — because of the no-till practice.

The Durands also use high-pressure grain dryers in their bins with no heat. The system saves money on energy and requires less maintenance.

“We had an energy audit done, and they determined there’s nothing else we could do to make our bins more efficient,” Jeff Durand said. “We find it is easier to work with than the old system.”

The Durand farm hosted a recent LSU AgCenter Master Farmer program Model Farm field day.

Johnny Saichuk, LSU AgCenter rice specialist, has been working with the Durands since the early 1990s and said the farm has improved over the years.

“This is the best I’ve ever seen it,” Saichuk said during the field day. “They took some pretty rough stuff and made it a class operation.”

Jerry Daigle, state soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, urged farmers to consider the no-till option. He said the approach has its detractors, but it is a viable practice in Louisiana. “It works even on Sharkey clay soil,” he said.

Daigle said using a cover crop — especially nitrogen-producing legumes — should not be overlooked.