By gearing up and throttling back their tractors, growers often can cut fuel usage by 20-25% and reduce engine wear and tear.
"It's amazing how much fuel you can save," says Jerry Schniederjan, Bushland, TX.
He's used the gear-up-and-throttle-back (GUTB) method for several years on his irrigated soybean, grain sorghum and wheat farm. Schniederjan has John Deere 4250, 4650 and 8760 tractors. The two smaller models, which have 125-150 hp, usually pull row-cropequipment. He runs at 5-5.3 mph in ninth or 10th gear.
"We usually gear up one gear and throttle back to run at about 2,000 rpm," he reports. "We don't have to run at 2,100. Using that method, we see at least 25% better fuel efficiency and get the job done just as well."
For heavier jobs, he uses his biggest tractor, a four-wheel drive with 300 hp.
"We run a Quinstar sweep at 6 mph at 2,000 rpm," he says. "Running any faster is less efficient in fuel usage, and the sweep isn't as smooth."
When Schniederjan mentions his GUTB success to others, some tell him it indicates he's "using too much tractor." But, with 12-row equipment, he says he needs the extra power.
Some newer tractors have electronic systems that automatically set the most efficient engine speed. On some Deere 8000-series tractors, for example, the Field Cruise setting automatically adjusts torque to maintain a consistent speed when the engine lugs down. Other manufacturers have similar controls.
Brent Sampson, an engineer at the Nebraska Tractor Test center in Lincoln, says newer tractors don't require as much GUTB.
"You won't see as much of a fuel economy improvement as you'll see on tractors made back in the '70s or early '80s," he says. "Engines were about the same size back then, but had much less horsepower."
In the Nebraska Tractor Test, GUTB's advantages have been noticed for many years, says Sampson.
"If you have a four-bottom plow and a tractor that can pull six bottoms, rather than running in fourth gear at 2,100 rpm, shift up two or three gears and run at 1,800. You'll likely still have adequate horsepower to pull it."
He warns not to use GUTB if it will impact pto-driven equipment.
Brent Snodgrass, a John Deere dealer in Lamesa, TX, says one grower he works with did his own GUTB test.
"He compared two same-model tractors side by side in the same field conditions," Snodgrass reports. "The tractor that was geared up and throttled back ran 16 hours before needing to be refueled. The other tractor ran 12 hours."
What about less wear and tear?
"Older, less efficient engines will last longer using this method," adds Sampson.
Schniederjan says both his smaller tractors were bought before 1991 and have close to 6,000 hours.
"I've had no major mechanical problems," he says. "We service them every 100 hours, but I also believe GUTB has helped."