TerraGator: Making Cents

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Diesel prices remained fairly steady during the first three quarters of 2010, then jumped in the fourth quarter to more than $3 per gallon. For 2011, the price is expected to continue to climb, averaging $3.23 per gallon according to the Energy Information Administration’s December 7 projections — more than 7% higher than 2010. Fuel prices, among other rising operating costs, are an unpleasant reality for retailers and producers alike.

With fuel prices in mind, it was with a bit of trepidation Dustin Eh­ler replaced his company’s 2003 Terra­Gator 8103 floatation applicator with a new Tier III-compliant 2011 model TerraGator 8303 equipped with AGCO‘s exclusive continuously variable transmission (CVT), TerraGator Management System (TMS) and AGCO SISU POWER 8.4L diesel engine.

“Not being a big fan of Tier III emissions, I was anticipating the machine to burn about the same amount of fuel as our three other air spreaders — somewhere around 11 gallons per hour,” relates Ehler, co-owner/fertilizer plant manager for Ehler Brothers, Thomasboro, IL, a retail crop input business which operates a fleet of 15 AGCO application machines servicing more than 150,000 acres annually.

Ehler often finds himself behind the wheel of an application machine. An end-of-the day refueling experience caught his attention and proved to be a pleasant surprise.

“The other operator and I pulled in at the same time to fuel for the next day,” he explains. “He was running the new 8303 and I was in an 8103. We’d both been out for a 10-hour day covering the same number of acres on the same type of terrain. He reset the meter on the fuel pump before filling and it clicked off at 60 gallons.

“That caught me a little off guard, so I reset the meter again, and it took between 90 and 100 gallons to refill my machine.”

A Big Savings

In a business where fuel accounts for 20% to 25% of operating costs, Ehler was quick to do the math and calculated fuel savings of $7,500 per year with the new 8303 applicator.

More than 1,700 miles west and offering dry application services to an entirely different array of cropping systems than found in the Midwest, Mike Anderson, owner of Anderson Custom Application, Caldwell, ID, had a very similar experience with the fuel efficiency of his new 8303.

“I don’t have exact numbers, but I know I’m saving at least 10 percent a day on fuel costs,” says Anderson. “If I’m saving around $35 a day, that’s from $600 to $700 per month, which definitely adds up.”

Anderson also has experienced an improvement in his overall efficiency due to the shuttle-shift operation of the CVT. Operating in an area where many fields are just 20 to 30 acres, it can be tough to cover acres quickly because of time backing into field corners and slowing for frequent turns.

“The shuttle shift is so much quicker when backing up because you don’t have to wait for the machine to come to a complete stop, and it’s definitely easier on the transmission,” Anderson explains. “The linear acceleration is very smooth and the CVT combined with the TMS keeps the engine speed constant. That way, we keep the RPMs up and get a very consistent spread pattern all the way to the edge of the field regardless of the machine’s ground speed.” Ander­son spreads between 1,000 and 1,400 pounds to the acre and has even applied up to 3,000 pounds to some fields.

“Out here, we run from 7 to 14 mph depending on the rate we’re applying. The 8303 TerraGator handles any speed we need to go and does a beautiful job. It is awesome,” Anderson says.

Weeda is a writer for Broadhead + Co., Minneapolis, MN.

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