Save Tractor Fuel by `Shifting up, Throttling Back'

March 24, 2011
ICM News

By Mark Hanna, Department of Ag and Biosystems Engineering

Tractor operations represent a significant portion of annual on-farm fuel costs. Rising fuel prices present a challenge for Iowa's farmers as they prepare for spring field work. A new publication from Iowa State University Extension illustrates the "shift up, throttle back" technique to reduce tractor fuel consumption and related expenses.

"Shift Up and Throttle Back to Save Tractor Fuel" (PM 2089M) is available to download from the Extension Online Store,

This year's rising temperatures are accompanied by rising fuel prices, striving to get the best performance from any tractor can help farmers to reduce costs by conserving fuel. Late-model tractors with "infinitely" or "continuously" variable transmissions are designed to automatically perform at maximum fuel efficiency, but older models need more attention. Spring field work requires varying amounts of drawbar force depending on the size of the tractor, the size of the implement and soil conditions. With a partial drawbar load, the fuel efficiency of a diesel engine is fairly forgiving if the operator will "shift up and throttle back."

The first step to reduce fuel consumption is remembering to shift up to a higher gear and ease back on the throttle when the tractor is only partially loaded. This technique alone can easily improve fuel savings by 10 percent.

For more tips on tractor maintenance, visit the farm energy website; educators should consider registering for the upcoming Farm Energy webinar scheduled for May 11.

The Farm Energy webinar and publications are part of a series of farm energy conservation and efficiency educational materials being developed through the ISU Farm Energy Initiative. The purpose is to increase farmers' awareness of opportunities for improving efficient use of farm energy. The initiative also will help farmers and utility providers to explore alternatives to reduce farm energy demand and to improve overall profitability in a rapidly changing energy environment.

Mark Hanna is an extension agricultural engineer in agricultural and biosystems engineering with responsibilities in field machinery. Hanna can be reached at or (515) 294-0468.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Integrated Crop Management News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on March 24, 2011. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.