The operating condition of tractors and other farm machinery can affect the fuel efficiency of those machines; therefore, maintenance is crucial for energy and financial savings.
Tractors and self-propelled equipment
Tractor engines and engines in self-propelled equipment should be maintained in good condition. It is possible for a tractor to be operating below peak performance without noticeably affecting field performance. Preventive maintenance and scheduled tune-ups are recommended to insure that the engine operates efficiently. Follow the recommendations in the operator’s manual for tractors and self-propelled machines to achieve maximum performance.
Research studies on 50 randomly selected gasoline farm tractors showed fuel consumption was reduced nearly 15 percent with a complete tune-up, according to University of Maryland Extension. In addition, tuning these tractors increased the maximum horsepower obtainable by an average of 11 percent. These fuel savings and horsepower increases could mean substantial savings in money and time.
Engine lubrication also affects fuel consumption. Oil, fuel, and air filters should be changed regularly according to manufacturers’ recommendations. Carburetors, injectors and other fuel-related components should function properly. A properly maintained engine runs more economically.
Adhering to best management practices, combined with the proper selection and operation of machinery, will make it possible to maximize energy efficiency when using field equipment. Breakdowns and slow productivity delay field work, which can result in lower yields.
Repair and maintain your equipment before you get to the field. Adjust equipment (see owner’s manual) to reduce draft (friction) that can increase fuel consumption. Don’t forget to lubricate per manufacturer’s recommendations. Poorly lubricated bearings, dull blades and cutting edges, and loose drive belts require more energy and power to complete a given task.
Tillage – Replace worn tillage surfaces (plow shears, chisel points, disk blades) on tillage tools, check disks for worn bearings and missing scrapers, check and tighten nuts and bolts and check resets for proper operation. Replace worn shovels or sweeps on spring-tooth harrows and field cultivators. Level front to back and side to side so tillage depth is even. Check resets and lubricate as needed.
Planters – Check that disk openers on planters turn freely and scrapers are adjusted properly. Check tire inflation (important for planter calibration) and packer wheel down pressure. Make sure seed dispersal mechanism works properly – monitor for proper operation and clean seed drop tubes. On air planters, check seals, trueness of seed drum or disks, and air pressure. Grease and lubricate per manufacturer’s recommendations. A planter that isn’t working correctly wastes energy, fertilizer and seed, due to reduced yields.
Harvest Equipment – When harvesting forage, three things have a significant effect on fuel consumption: length-of-cut, knife sharpness and knife-shearbar clearance. Roughly 40% of the energy used by a harvester is consumed by the cutterhead, so dull knives and worn shearbars can have considerable effect on fuel efficiency.
- Increasing the length-of-cut reduces fuel consumption but must be weighed against the nutritional requirements of the animals and storage facility. If you have a choice, longer length cuts will save energy and money.
- Dull knives require more energy to cut forage. Check knives and knife bolts on forage harvesters, mowers, and other equipment daily when under heavy use and after striking and object, and keep them sharp. Rotary or disc mower knives are typically subjected to higher rates of wear and prone to break more because of they are more exposed than sickle bar mowers.
- The cutterhead power requirement increases as the knife to shearbar clearance increases, doubling for each 0.01 in. increase in clearance. Each time the knives are sharpened, the shearbar must be adjusted. Refer to your forage harvester’s operator’s manual for adjustment instructions.
- Introduction to Energy Efficient Tractor and Field Operations
- Tractor and Field Operations Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips*Five Strategies for Extending Machinery Life. Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2009.
- Farm Machinery Fact Sheets, Utah State University
- Planter Preparation, Maintenance and Calibration, University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service.
- Spring Tillage and Planting Energy Savings Tune Up, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, 2009.
- Summer Forage Harvesting – Energy Savings Tune Up, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, 2009.
- Zane Helsel, Extension Specialist in Agricultural Energy, Rutgers University
- Robert Grisso, Extension Engineer, Virginia Tech
- Vern Grubinger, Professor, University of Vermont Extension