COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With diesel prices on the rise -- up nearly 50 cents from this time last year and a dollar higher than in 2004 -- a little bit of savings can go a long way when it comes to taking steps to conserve fuel on the farm.
Randall Reeder, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer, said that being diligent with farming tasks, however mundane or unimportant they may seem, can put a few extra dollars in a farmer's pocket.
"For many situations, every dollar saved in fuel may save a farmer $5 to $10 in total production costs," said Reeder, who also holds a research appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "Your goal is to make a profit, so you don't want to go all out to save a dollar in fuel if it's going to cost you $2 in profit. But there are many simple things a farmer can do to save fuel that either won't cost a thing or only cost very little."
Reeder will offer tips to saving fuel on the farm at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, being held Feb. 23-24 at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. Here are some of the more popular ways to "put dollars in the bank, not in the fuel tank":
• Invest in conservation tillage.
Reeder said that the No. 1 way to save on fuel costs is to switch to a no-till or other conservation tillage production practice. "Conservation tillage cuts down on machinery usage," he said. "You can cut tractor use in half by switching to no-till."
• Consider auto-steering.
"Yes, it is a substantial investment, but auto-steering makes it easier to adopt controlled traffic," said Reeder. "That will minimize or eliminate compaction in the cropping zone, leading to higher yields with no-till and a quick payback."
• Maintain the right kind of tires at the proper inflation.
Reeder said that tractor tires can be a major source of fuel loss. "On the average farm, the majority of tires are over inflated," he said. "Over inflation causes excess slippage. Keeping tires at the correct pressure improves traction, floatation and wear."
Reeder recommends that farmers check tire pressure once a week during times of heavy usage.
Additionally, farmers should invest in radial tires, rather than bias tires. Though more expensive, radial tires outperform bias tires because of their design.
Reeder said tractors need the proper weight for traction, and the correct balance between front and rear axles for peak performance. "You want enough weight to eliminate excess slippage, but you also want to remove ballast when it is not needed," he said. "When pulling a load, the correct amount of slippage is 8 to 12 percent on a firm surface and 10 to 16 percent on soft ground." This does not apply to rubber tracks, which have almost no slippage.
A good way to determine if a tractor has the right slippage is to measure the distance after 10 tire revolutions in the field pulling a normal load. Next, measure the distance after 10 revolutions with no load on a driveway or other hard surface. This is representative of zero slippage. Then calculate the percentage between the two numbers to determine if you have the correct slippage.
Other tire tips include: replace tires with worn out lugs; use single tires unless the duals are needed for traction and flotation, or a controlled traffic system; instead of triples, consider using wider duals. Extra tires can increase rolling resistance and use more fuel.
• Maintain regular maintenance on equipment.
Regular upkeep includes changing air and fuel filters. "Scheduled maintenance saves fuel and increases power," said Reeder. "A partially plugged fuel filter cuts down the amount of fuel getting to the engine, thereby losing power."
Just like with car models, tractors can vary on fuel efficiency. The University of Nebraska offers information on tractors and their fuel efficiency to help buyers make a decision between models. For information on tractors built since 1999, log on to http://tractortestlab.unl.edu.
• Shut off idling engines.
"Don't let a diesel engine idle more than about 10 minutes," said Reeder. "Research shows it's less efficient to keep an engine idling for warmth than it is to re-start it. Of course, results may change in extremely cold weather."
• Be mindful of fuel-wasting use of the equipment.
For example, when subsoiling, don't go any deeper that necessary to break up compacted soil. "The deeper you go, the more power it takes," said Reeder. "Don't subsoil 16 inches if going 12 inches deep is doing the job."
Reeder also recommends eliminating recreational tractor driving. That is, don't get out the chisel plow after harvest just to stay busy.
To cut back on the number of trips equipment is driven to and from fields, Reeder said many farmers will add a carrier to the tractor or combine for a small motorcycle or scooter to use rather than driving the equipment back home.
• Replace worn out equipment parts.
"Keeping any ground-engaging tools sharp makes a big difference when it comes to saving fuel and improving speed and field efficiency," said Reeder.
These are just a few of the hundreds of things farmers can do both on and off the farm to improve fuel efficiency and help save money, said Reeder. All it takes is a bit of time and effort to be mindful of the impacts certain actions, or lack thereof, can have on farm expenses.
For more information on the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, log on to http://ctc.osu.edu.