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Corn+Soybean Digest

Practices To Reduce High Tractor Fuel Costs

Farmers looking for ways to trim fuel costs as farm diesel prices near $2.50 per gallon can start by using practices to improve efficiency, a South Dakota State University specialist said.

SDSU Extension Farm Machinery Specialist Dick Nicolai said one practice that minimizes fuel consumption is the no-till method that requires fewer passes over the land to till and plant crops.

"No-till farming has been used by some South Dakota farmers over the years but the current rising trend in fuel prices has encouraged more producers to look into these practices. Fuel savings vary for different producers who use the no-till method. Fuel savings of around $10/acre can be expected when compared to traditional farming practices," Nicolai said.

Other practices farmers can use to reduce fuel costs include proper maintenance and operation of their tractors. Nicolai offered these suggestions:

  • Check injectors. Dirty fuel injectors can cause inefficient combustion of fuel and some loss of power. Clean injectors if you see black smoke coming from the exhaust. Use a fuel injector additive in the fuel for minor cleaning.
  • Service air cleaners. Dirty air cleaners restrict the flow of air needed for the combustion process. The result is excess fuel in the fuel-air mixture, which leads to increased fuel consumption with less available power and higher fuel costs. Look for black exhaust smoke or check the airflow indicator found on most air cleaners.
  • Use the proper viscosity of oil in the engine to maximize engine efficiency. Oils that are too thick decrease power and lubrication and increase fuel consumption.
  • Use proper ballast. Farm tractors are designed to be operated with additional weight or ballast when pulling heavy loads to prevent wheel slip. Insufficient ballast can cause excessive wheel slip and increased fuel consumption. Drive wheel slip should be no more than about 10% for optimum efficiency. Some slip is desirable to reduce the wear and tear on the drive train of the tractor.
  • Replace drive tires that have excessive wear. Worn tires can cause wheel slip from poor traction, increased fuel consumption. Radial ply drive tires have more flex in the sidewall of the tire, which can increase traction when compared to same size bias-ply tires.
  • Shut off diesel engines rather than idling for long periods. New studies show that significant fuel savings can be realized by not idling diesel engines for more than ten minutes.
  • Operate tractors in higher speed gears and lower throttle settings to conserve fuel and drive train wear. Operating tractors in lower gears at high engine speeds increases fuel consumption and wear on the drive train.
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