Extension and Ag Research News


Reduce Energy Use in Tractors, Field Operations

NDSU offers agricultural producers tips on cutting their fuel use and costs.

Depending on the type of farm, field operations can be one of the most significant uses of energy.

So reducing or eliminating those operations can lead to some significant savings, says Carl Pedersen, North Dakota State University Extension Service energy educator. Agricultural producers have some simple ways to make tractor and field operations more energy efficient and others that are more involved and may lead to even greater savings.

The best way to save on fuel costs is to reduce tractor use, according to Pedersen. Conservation tillage practices have been in use for years and not only reduce soil erosion, but also the number of passes across the field.

Other emerging techniques that reduce fuel costs include reduced till and strip till. These tillage practices allow preparation of the seed bed, fertilizer application and planting in a single pass. Conservation tillage generally uses less fuel than full tillage systems because the soil is tilled less intensely and less often.

Those who choose not to make major changes in tillage have simple things they can do to reduce fuel usage.

“One of the most important is to properly maintain farm machinery,” Pedersen says. “Replacing fuel and air filters at manufacturers’ recommended schedules can reduce fuel use while increasing horsepower.”

Maintenance is not simply ensuring clean air and fuel filters, however. It also involves setting up the machinery for the specific operation. Properly ballasted tractors with recommended tire inflation rates can improve fuel consumption and increase tractor efficiency by creating the required amount of tire slippage for the specific tractor, implement and field conditions.

Some wheel slippage is needed to reduce excess wear on the tires. Ten percent is generally the optimum level, but the actual level depends on the type of tractor, the speed and the implement being used.

Overballasting is a common problem. With too much ballast weight, the lugs dig too deeply into the soil, causing the tractor to consume more fuel. Too little ballast means the tires will be slipping excessively, causing the tires to rotate more to travel the same distance.

To ensure the tractor has the proper amount of ballast and tire pressure, producers should check with the tractor manufacturer’s recommendations. While balancing the tractor weight is important, balancing the implement with the size of tractor being used also is important, Pedersen says. Using a tractor with excess horsepower or too little horsepower can reduce fuel efficiency significantly.

For example, using a large tractor for light loads is inefficient because extra horsepower is used to move the larger tractor. Producers should consider using a smaller tractor if it could be used. On the other hand, using a smaller tractor to perform operations that require more horsepower can overload a smaller tractor, reducing its fuel consumption and efficiency.

Pedersen suggests producers also use the concept of “gear up and throttle down.” Increasing the gear and lowering the throttle speed can lead to fuel savings. Make sure to not overload the engine; excessive black smoke indicates overloading.

To test if the tractor is using more torque than the gear is designed for, rapidly increase the throttle speed. If the tractor responds quickly, it is not overloaded. If it lugs, shift to the next lower gear and increase the throttle speed.

Gearing up and throttling down needs to be used carefully with implements that require the use of a power takeoff (PTO) or hydraulics. The PTO and hydraulics require certain engine speeds to maintain performance and not damage equipment. Consult the owner’s manual for information. Modern tractors with constantly variable or infinitely variable transmissions perform shift up/throttle down automatically.

Auto-steer and guidance systems also can improve the efficiency of operations by reducing overlap, Pedersen says.

Another way to save fuel is to reduce the loss of fuel that is not in the tractor. Ensure above-ground fuel storage tanks are shaded, as well as painted light colors, to reduce fuel loss to evaporation.

For more information on how to make farm operations more efficient and in turn more cost effective, consult the NDSU Extension Service publication “Farmstead Energy Audit.” It is available at http://www.ndsu.edu/energy or through the NDSU Distribution Center at (701) 231-7882 or by e-mail at NDSU.DistributionCenter@ndsu.edu. It also is available through county Extension offices or online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/structu/ae1366.pdf.

For questions specific to tractor and machinery operations, contact John Nowatzki, NDSU Extension Service agricultural machine systems specialist, at (701) 231-8213 or john.nowatzki@ndsu.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Carl Pedersen, (701) 231-5833, carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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