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Is your machinery snow-ready?

Jeff Caldwell 02/04/2013 @ 10:49am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

You have to spend money to save money, right?

That may be the case with a lot of farm operations, but cutting back on energy costs during winter weather outbreaks can be done without pouring out much of any initial investment, says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension ag engineer Mark Hanna. It just takes the right equipment, some careful preparation before major winter weather rolling through and prudent action afterwards.

It all starts well ahead of any snowfall, namely in good engine care. But, you can keep machinery engines ready to go at a moment's notice and still save a few bucks.

"To avoid cold starts, the winter routine typically requires a block heater for your motor. Assuming 12 cents per kilowatt hour for a 1000-watt block heater, you can save more than a dollar a day by simply installing a 2-hour timer for that heater instead of leaving it plugged in all night," Hanna says.

How you handle snow-moving and plowing duties on your farm also can have major implications on cost, namely with fuel. The machinery you use to move snow may not be the most efficient means, says Dana Petersen with the ISU Farm Energy Conservation and Efficiency Initiative.

"There are drawbacks to using the farm truck. Pushing snow is hard on the engine and transmission, and the limited maneuverability results in overlapping and excess fuel consumption. By comparison, a plow blade mounted to a 4-wheel drive tractor allows you to make tighter turns, capture more horsepower and use less fuel. Visibility from the tractor seat is also typically better than a pickup," Petersen says. "Another advantage of moving snow with a tractor is versatility. A front-end loader can be used to dig through deep drifts. Other attachments, such as a blower or a blade, can also be rear-mounted to the same tractor. This allows the operator to move more snow with fewer passes, thereby saving fuel."

If you're more comfortable with a snow blower than a plow, where and how it's mounted on the tractor also has a lot to do with how efficient it will operate, Petersen adds.

"A 3-point, rear-mounting blower that attaches to a tractor's PTO is simple and straightforward," she says. "In comparison, a front-mounted snow blower typically has a more complicated mounting mechanism that incorporates hydraulics."

Ultimately, Hanna and Petersen say the best way to get the most out of your snow-moving equipment is to know your limitations. If you don't feel your iron's up to the job, you may wind up ultimately adding to your costs.

"If you find yourself in over your head, ask a neighbor for help. Be sure to maintain clear communication regarding fueling and maintenance when sharing machinery among neighbors or family," Petersen says. "This is especially important to minimize fuel costs and unnecessary wear and tear."

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