Reduce Fuel Use on the Farm

October 31, 2008 10:02 AM


While gas prices may be out of your control, there are measures you can take to reduce your fuel consumption, which translates to lower costs and higher profits.

The cost of operating a tractor is among the higher costs on most farms and ranches. While tractors are necessary farm equipment, they also use a lot of fuel, according to Vicki Lynne, an energy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Above ground fuel storage. If you have an aboveground fuel storage tank on your farm, some fuel is lost through the tank's vents. Fuel tanks are vented to allow for the expansion and contraction of fuel inside the tank, depending on the weather and temperature inside and outside the tank.

To reduce the amount of lost fuel, paint the tank white or use an aluminum paint so the sun reflects off the tank. A 300-gal. dark-colored tank can lose up to 10 gal. of fuel per month during warm weather. Painted white, under a shade, that same tank will lose only 2.5 gal. per month, a 75% savings, says Lynne.

"It's worth it to take a couple pieces of plywood to build a shelter over a tank," she says.

Placing a shade over a fuel storage tank prevents the sun from shining on it directly. "This will keep it from getting so hot," Lynne says.

Check to make sure fuel tank hoses don't have leaks and that there are no leaks where the hose connects to the tank. "Little drips can add up," Lynne adds.

Proper maintenance. Make sure your tractors and trucks are properly maintained. This includes replacing air and fuel filters regularly, adjusting carburetors, cleaning fuel injectors and making sure the engine thermostat is correct for the type of engine you have.

Keep track of mileage or the number of hours between maintenance activities to help you know when it's time for another maintenance check. Regular service will keep fuel efficiency up and extend equipment life. A blocked air filter alone can increase fuel consumption by up to 25%.

Research from Utah State University found that a tractor tuned up at every 450 hours of use saves about 300 gal. of diesel per year.

"These are things that a lot of people do as regular maintenance," Lynne says. "They are fairly simple, but we often don't think about them because we get too busy. Part of the problem is that maintenance and energy conservation, while very necessary, just aren't that exciting to most of us. We would rather put up a wind turbine or solar panels, because other people will comment on it. They're not going to comment on tractor maintenance, and can't tell by looking that you've replaced filters. Maintenance is not nearly so interesting, but it's very cost-effective."

Kick the tires. Check for correct tire inflation on each tractor you own. Lynne suggests looking at tractor tire slippage and making sure the ballast, or the amount of weight put on the tire, is at the optimal range for what you're doing.

"If there's too much weight on the tires for a job, then they will be digging into the field, making the tractor work harder and burn more fuel," Lynne says. She adds that too little tire weight can be just as bad. "You need a certain amount of weight for the tires to dig in; otherwise, you can't pull the implement."

Each time you drive around in a field, it adds up. Underinflated tires can increase fuel use by 5% to 10% for most tractors.

If you have multiple equipment, use the right one for the job. Even using an ATV for small jobs doesn't use as much fuel compared to a tractor, Lynne says.

"There's no sense in using a big-horsepower tractor when a smaller one will do the same job more efficiently," she says.

Reduce fuel use. Don't let a running tractor sit idle. "In winter, a lot of producers let diesel tractors idle," Lynne says. "But idling can consume a lot of fuel."

Letting an engine idle for 10 minutes each day, or 61 hours a year, will use about 31 gal. of fuel on a 75-hp diesel tractor. Also, running the air conditioning uses more fuel because it makes the engine work a little bit harder.

Cattleman Kent Jones of Joplin, Mo., owner of a 100-head Angus cattle operation, reduces his fuel use by limiting the amount of brush-hogging he does on his farm and by consolidating errands.

"I used to brush-hog about 100 acres around the house at the first of the summer, and this year, I only did about half that," Jones says.

Doing all of these little things will lead to increased production efficiencies and farmers will end up spending less money on fuel.

"If you save 10%, that 10% is going to increase the bottom line," Lynne says. "We all do things a certain way. Sometimes the savings will only be 3% to 5%, but they add up. By itself, it doesn't look like much, but if you keep track, you'll see it." BT

To prevent any slow fuel leaks on aboveground fuel tanks, make sure all of the tank's hoses and connector lines are kept clean and in good working order.
Top 12 Fuel-saving tips

1. Avoid unnecessary driving. Maybe the task can be handled with a phone call instead of a trip.

2. Match the vehicle to the task. Take the family car to pick up parts instead of the four-wheel-drive truck.

3. Extra tools, supplies and nonessentials in the back of a vehicle add weight that decreases fuel mileage.

4. Keep vehicles in good running order. Clogged filters and injectors rob power and efficiency.

5. Check the tire pressure. Underinflated or overinflated tires can increase rolling resistance and fuel use.

6. Switch to minimum or no-till farming practices. Fewer tractor passes through the field means less fuel used.

7. Match the tractor to the task. Don't use a large field tractor when a smaller one will work.

8. Tires on a poorly ballasted tractor will slip. Too much ballast for the task uses more fuel than necessary.

9. Gear up and throttle back when tasks don't require full engine power. Operating at less than full power can save 5% to 15% compared to full-throttle operation.

10. Consider auto-steer attachments for field tasks, such as sprayers and tillage equipment.

11. Avoid unnecessary engine idling—it can account for 15% to 20% of fuel use.

12. Paint fuel tanks white. A dark-colored, 300-gal. tank can vent up to 120 gal. of fuel per year.

Source:KansasState University

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