Ten ways to cut fuel costs this spring
With fuel costs jumping again, many farmers are searching for ways to reduce their fuel usage associated with the upcoming spring planting season.
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.
University of Illinois natural resources educator Bob Frazee has in a University report outlined the following 10 major ways farmers may be able to reduce fuel usage this spring:
- 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.
- 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. In the 2006 crop year, over half of Illinois' soybean acreage was planted using no-till methods.
- 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 three to four inches. This will reduce the power and fuel requirements needed.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 four-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.