Rising diesel prices boost machinery running costs

Share your thoughts on red diesel costs on our forum thread on the issue. 

As the price of red diesel heads relentlessly towards 60p/litre, farmers and contractors are seeing their machinery running costs hitting frightening levels.

From 10p/litre in 1988, red diesel hit 19p/litre in 2001, 34p/litre in February 2007 and is now averaging 55p/litre. And though crude oil prices have eased back from their all-time high a couple of weeks ago, economists reckon strong demand and continuing Middle East instability will probably see it resume its inexorable rise.

For a tractor in the increasingly popular 200hp bracket burning 30-35 litres/hr of fuel, this translates into a fuel cost of £16-£19/hour. Not all hours are spent with the throttle wide open, of course, and most operators will cut back the revs at the headland. Even so, for a hard-driving operator on a tractor that does 1000 hours a year, that is a theoretical annual fuel cost of between £16,500 and £19,250.

For a combine or self-propelled forager the hourly fuel cost is even greater, though the overall number of hours is likely to be lower. Dorset contractor Jim Farquharson reckons his 380hp Deere combine is pretty typical of this type of machine in using 62 litres/hour (equivalent to £34/hour) while it’s harvesting. With 350 hours of combining a year typical for the business, that is a fuel bill of anything up to £11,900.

Fuel use*

Deere 7920 + 6m power harrow/drill – 35-40 litres/hr

Fendt 820 + 6-furrow plough – 30-35 litres/hr

Deere 8400 + 7-furrow plough – 38 litres/hr

Deere 8530 towing an 18t corn trailer – 35 litres/hr

MF6495 + 7-tine Shakeaerator – 35 litres/hr

MF7495CVT + 7-tine Shakaerator – 30 litres/hr

Kubota compact tractor + 1.8m topper – 4 litres/hr

*Typical fuel usage figures from people posting on the FWi machinery forums

“Fuel costs have now overtaken other running costs,” he says. “For our 280-300hp Case Magnum, which does 800-900 hours a year, the fuel costs are now £20 an hour, while spares and repairs cost about £4/hr. Fixed costs like depreciation and interest are £16/hr.”

How do you cut your fuel costs? It’s not easy, but here are some ideas:

• Don’t leave tractors and combines idling unnecessarily. It may not sound like much of a saving, but Jim Farquharson says his combine still uses 7 litres/hour of diesel on tickover and he discourages drivers from keeping the engine idling during breaks just to operate the air-conditioning.

• Fit GPS autosteer systems to minimise overlaps. “It’s costing us £4000 to fit it, but it’s worth it.” He expects to payback on the extra investment in just two or three years – or less if fuel prices continue rising.

• Modify your driving techniques. Difficult if you need to muster maximum power or stick at a set pto revs, or simply need to cover the ground in a limited weather window. But ploughing trials by Dutch magazine Boerderij in 2006 showed that setting up the implement right, adding front weight, going up a gear and throttling back could knock 19% off your fuel bill and make the most of peak torque levels.

• Choose more fuel-efficient tractors. Not easy, and standardised car-style easy-to-understand consumption figures are badly needed.

• Shop around for fuel. The wide variation in prices among those who commented on internet forums suggest there may be scope to change supplier or join a buying group.


How about yours?

• How does your tractor’s fuel consumption compare to these? Let us know – phone 020 8652 4901 or add a post to our forum thread below.