Ten Ways to Cut Fuel Costs this Spring

Limit trips – both across the field and to town – to help save fuel and dollars.

Published on: Apr 4, 2008

With fuel costs sky-rocketing, many farmers are searching for ways to reduce their fuel usage associated with the upcoming spring planting season, reports Bob Frazee, University of Illinois Natural Resources Educator. To help answer these questions, producers need to first look closely where their fuels are being used. Fuel consumption varies widely due to variations in tractor efficiency, soil moisture conditions, crop yields, and other factors.

Frazee has outlined the following ten major ways farmers may be able to reduce fuel usage this spring:

1. Reduce the number of trips associated with spring seedbed preparation. With today's modern planter units, crop residue does not create the problems it used to with seed placement and depth control. For most field situations, one tillage trip over the field in the spring should provide adequate leveling of the soil and seedbed preparation.

2. Change to a no-till planting system where field conditions permit. This is especially true for soybeans, as no-till soybeans are an easy and proven way to maximize yields without doing any tillage. Currently, over one-half of Illinois soybean acreage is planted using no-till methods.

3. Reduce the depth of tillage associated with seedbed preparation if you are using a mulch-till or reduced-till system. In most cases, spring seedbed preparation should be performed no deeper than 3 – 4 inches. This will reduce the power and fuel requirements needed.

4. Combine trips across the field may also reduce fuel usage. Producers using 28% UAN solutions may be able to mix their pre-plant or pre-emergence herbicides with their fertilizer and apply with one trip over the field. Be sure to check with your ag-supplier regarding chemical compatibility of the herbicides and fertilizer products before mixing these together.

5. Custom apply either or both herbicides and fertilizer this spring. Although an application charge will be charged by the commercial company, they may be able to do it more cost and fuel-efficiently than an individual producer.

6. Use post-emergence herbicides for annual grass and broad-leaf weed control. By applying the post-emergence herbicides after the crops and the weeds emerge, producers know the crop's seedling plant population and the infestation of weed species present. In some cases, producers may only need to do "spot" treatments of either the broadleaf or grass herbicide in the field. Also, by waiting until after the crop and weeds emerge for treatment, weed control is usually improved.

7. Avoid unnecessary use of the cultivator for weed control unless weed populations cannot be controlled with herbicides.

Match field equipment to the appropriate sized tractor. If excess tractor horsepower is used for the job, fuel efficiency declines dramatically. Conversely, if a small horse-powered tractor is used and the tractor becomes overloaded for the job, fuel efficiency also suffers. In many situations, research studies show that a large front-wheel assist tractor or 4-wheel drive tractor may actually provide the best fuel efficiency if it is appropriately sized to a large field cultivator or other tillage implement. A good rule of thumb is to usually select the smallest and lightest tractor for the job that needs to be done to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce soil compaction.

Perform general tractor maintenance before going into the fields this spring. Take time to properly clean air and fuel systems including replacement of filters. Also be sure to properly lubricate tractors and equipment as this will result in enhanced fuel efficiency and equipment operation when you get to the fields this spring.

Examine use of the pick-up truck and trips to town. According to research studies, for many farms, one of the largest users of fuel involves the pick-up truck. Without a doubt, the pick-up truck is an essential component of the entire farming operation. However, where possible, combine trips for equipment, seed, chemicals, and to arrange for other agri-business services. Also, using the telephone or the home computer may reduce a number of unnecessary trips to town.

For most farms, the greatest farm fuel usage occurs in the fall as the crops are harvested and dried, and fall tillage is performed. Although harvest is still 6-8 months away, Frazee recommends farmers begin examining their entire farming operation to identify where and how they can reduce their overall fuel consumption.