Tractor efficiency may not get a lot of attention in cow country. But, saving money on fuel costs these days gets a second glance from nearly anyone.

As fuel prices continue to rise, ranchers hitting the fields can realize significant cost savings through fuel efficiency, says Tyler Lane, Montana State University (MSU) Extension agent in Toole County. He's teamed with other MSU Extension and researchers with the Ag Tech Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, to bring producers the most recent research on optimizing tractor efficiency.

Ballasting your tractor for the load you're pulling is one of the first steps in saving fuel, Lane says. But, if you're already in the field, there are things you can do to cash in on fuel economy that require little or no down time.

"Most operations have more tractor than they need for the implement that they're pulling," he says. "So, an efficient practice they can apply on the fly is to 'gear up and throttle back'."

According to Ag Tech Centre research, a four-wheel-drive 262 horsepower tractor consumed 13.8 gallons of fuel/hour at full throttle. The same tractor, run in higher gear at part throttle, consumed 9.8 gallons/hour, or roughly 30% less fuel.

"If fuel prices rise again this spring to $3/gallon, four gallons saved in an hour would come out to $12/hour in savings," Lane explains.

In addition to finding the "sweet spot" in tractor engine rpm, the researchers recommended these simple efficiency tips: For best performance and ride, set all the tires on a given axle to the same pressure. Lane says to measure tire pressure when the tractor has not been used for several hours.

If fluid is used for ballasting on a new tractor, equalize the fluid among all of the tires on the axle.

Warm up your engine by starting slow in low gear (idling is not necessary).

When shutting the tractor down for the day, wait for the temperature gauge to drop slightly. Additional cool-down time is not necessary. More research-based information on tractor efficiency to save fuel, reduce depreciation and minimize soil compaction is available at extn.msu.montana.edu/Directory/Field.asp. -- Clint Peck