Improving a Farming Fleet's Fuel Economy: 10 Impactful Changes

It may not be the first consideration to come to mind, but fuel economy is a crucial factor in running a farm. Agriculture has an infamously large carbon footprint, emitting 698 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2018. Becoming more efficient is also a matter of saving money as fuel costs rise.


Farming fleets have several options for improving their fuel economy. Here are 10 of the most impactful changes agricultural businesses can make.


1. Buy Fuel-Efficient Equipment

The most effective and straightforward way to improve fleet fuel economy is to use an efficient fleet from the beginning. Efficiency may not be a top selling point for many farm vehicles, but it’s an increasingly critical concern. Farms today can choose from various fuel-efficient offerings.


Electric tractors can match diesel alternatives’ output or even exceed it in some cases, thanks to the lack of heat waste. Electric and hybrid options may be more expensive upfront, but they’ll save money in the long run by not using expensive fuel. Farms can start by implementing one or two EVs and slowly replace the rest of their fleet.


2. Perform Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance also plays a central role in maximizing fuel economy. Oil changes, clean air filters, engine tuning and more help prevent flaws that cause engines to run less efficiently. The key to making the most of these repairs is performing them before larger issues arise.


Fleet management software can help create optimized maintenance schedules. These technologies can pinpoint faults that affect fuel economy and alert workers when they must repair equipment to avoid them. Basing maintenance on these systems instead of running to failure maximizes performance while keeping repair costs and downtime low.


3. Use the Right Fuel

The type of fuel farms use can also impact their fleet’s efficiency. Plenty of gas and diesel alternatives can offer more efficiency, so farm workers should understand what their vehicles can run and what fuels may offer the most advantages.


Farms relying on diesel equipment can run them on biofuel or ethanol without engine modifications. These options are less expensive and produce fewer emissions, helping farms become more sustainable and cost-effective. However, gasoline-powered vehicles won’t be able to run other fuels without modification. Still, farms should consult owner’s manuals to ensure they use the right fuel grade, which will help optimize efficiency.


4. Operate With Efficiency in Mind

Different driving behaviors can affect fuel economy, so workers should keep efficiency in mind while operating farm vehicles. For example, letting engines idle to warm up in colder months is a significant waste of fuel that doesn’t provide performance benefits in modern equipment. Eliminating that idle time can result in substantial savings.


Equipment operators should also avoid slippery surfaces or other areas where their tires may struggle to grip. These conditions can cause slipping and high engine revolutions, wasting fuel. Before starting, workers should plan the most efficient route and stick to it, completing their work with minimal travel time.


5. Match Equipment to the Job at Hand

Just as farms should select the right fuel for their equipment, they should also match their equipment to specific tasks. Lighter tractors will get the best fuel efficiency, so they’re an ideal choice for many areas but not all jobs. Heavier-duty work could overload small engines, counteracting any fuel-saving benefits they have.


The key here is balancing weight and power. Stronger engines can accomplish heavier work with lower engine speeds, but they’ll also consume more fuel. Farms must analyze their regular work and available machines to find the best vehicle for the job.


6. Keep Tires Inflated

Some seemingly insignificant measures can have a considerable impact on fuel efficiency. Tire inflation is the perfect example. Lower tire inflation can help improve traction, but it will require more effort to move the vehicle, increasing fuel consumption.


According to the Department of Energy, proper tire inflation can improve mileage by 3% in some circumstances. That may not seem like a substantial improvement, but that 3% can account for significant savings over time. Taking this step on top of others will produce more impressive results.


7. Store Fuel Correctly

Another step that may be easy to overlook is fuel storage. Improper storage won’t render gas or diesel less efficient, but it can lead to loss. Gasoline evaporates quickly, so much so that 20% of all hydrocarbon emissions in cars come from evaporation.


Minimizing evaporation will help preserve fuel, reducing waste and stretching reserves over longer periods. Farms can do this by keeping it in opaque containers away from sunlight. Caps must also be on tight. These steps won’t prevent evaporation entirely, but they will slow it down significantly, helping keep fuel expenses low.


8. Reduce Weight

Farming equipment can often carry heavy loads, causing engines to work harder to move the same distance. Conversely, reducing vehicle and load weight will improve fuel economy, as motors won’t exert as much power. Farm fleets can accomplish this in a few different ways.


The first method is to buy lighter equipment from the beginning, which typically means purchasing newer or smaller alternatives. Secondly, workers can reduce what they store in and on farm vehicles. They shouldn’t carry anything that’s not an immediate work need. Unnecessary tools, passengers, clothing and food can all add unneeded weight.


9. Work in a Higher Gear When Possible

Another behavioral change equipment operators can make is preferring higher gears. More revolutions per minute will burn fuel faster, and working in a higher gear will let machines reach the same speeds with lower revolutions. This also enables drivers to slow down by adjusting gears instead of braking, preventing frequent starts and stops that consume fuel.


However, it’s not always possible to operate in a higher gear. Heavier workloads may require lower gears to achieve enough force. A good rule of thumb is that if a load requires less than 70% of the vehicle’s power, it’s OK to work in a higher gear.


10. Avoid Overfilling

While it may seem like giving vehicles as much fuel as possible lets them go farther, this often is wasteful. Gasoline’s volume expands by roughly 1% per 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so on a hot day or as the engine warms, an overfilled tank may start to spill or leak. Consequently, adding more gas than recommended won’t provide any more fuel in practice.


Overfilling can also damage vehicles’ engines, leading to decreased efficiency and even complete breakdowns later on. The resulting repair costs will far outweigh any savings from fewer fueling stops.


Farms Need Efficient Fleets

Farms must become more environmentally sustainable, and many work with low profit margins. Improved fuel economy helps address both issues.


Individually, each of these 10 steps may result in seemingly small improvements, but they combine to produce significant savings. Farm fleets that practice these changes can reduce operating expenses and carbon footprints.

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