Thursday, July 13, 2006

Using Heavy Equipment to Till Fields

Tillage uses more fuel per acre than almost any other field operation. Carefully evaluate your tillage plans and reduce tillage or the intensity of tillage wherever you can. Reducing tillage is also likely to provide the benefit of reducing soil erosion. Make sure, though, to look at your whole cropping system and evaluate whether reducing tillage will create the need for other, more expensive operations.
Avoid compacting soil by staying out of wet fields and by reducing passes with heavy equipment. Extra tillage and extra power (and thus more fuel) are needed to break up compacted soil.
Reduce the number of trips across the field by combining operations where possible. Consider modifying equipment so that you can perform multiple operations in one pass. Think about using a tractor with hitches on both the front and rear (several companies are selling hitches that can be mounted on the front of tractors) so that you can attach implements to both ends of the tractor.
Match the tractor to the load. Avoid using heavy, high-horsepower tractors for operations that don’t require much power.
If you have to use a high-horsepower tractor to pull a light load, gear up and throttle down. You can usually save quite a bit of fuel by running an under-loaded tractor in a higher gear but at a lower engine speed. Make sure, though, that you don’t overload the engine; if the engine speed doesn’t change quickly when you change the throttle setting, you should probably shift down a gear. Also, gearing up and throttling down might not work for PTO-powered implements since the PTO will operate at lower speed when the engine is run at less than rated speed.
Inflate tires to appropriate pressure. Inflation pressure is an important variable for traction efficiency, tire life, and ride comfort—especially for radial tires. Check your tractor owner’s manual and/or the tire distributor for suggestions on inflation pressure.
Add the appropriate amount of weight for the load. Tractor weight, or ballast, helps control the amount of drive wheel slippage. Drive tires should slip about 15% when the tractor is pulling a load in the field. Slip can be checked by comparing the distance traveled for a certain number of wheel revolutions when the tractor is pulling a load to the distance traveled when the tractor is not pulling a load. Higher levels of slip cause excessive tire wear and poor fuel efficiency. Lower levels of slip indicate that the tractor is carrying too much weight, which wastes fuel and puts an extra load on the axles and power train. Ideally, weights should be added or removed to match the load when tractors are used for different field operations.
If you can do so without causing excessive soil erosion, lay out fields to minimize the amount of time spent turning around and the amount of time needed to haul loads of harvested crop back to the road.
Try to minimize the amount of time spent driving tractors and other used heavy equipment on the road. Try to keep tractors and other equipment in the field and use faster, more fuel-efficient vehicles to service vehicles in the field and to haul harvested crops to storage.

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