Study Shows 'Shift Up, Throttle Back' Technique Saves Tractor Fuel

AMES, Iowa – The expenses for tractor fuel can add up quickly during spring field work. According to a study conducted at the Iowa State University Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Nashua a twenty percent or more fuel savings can be achieved by the ‘shift up, throttle back’ technique.

Using an auxiliary 12-gallon tractor fuel tank, the study measured diesel fuel consumption for different tractor gear and throttle combinations. Significant fuel savings were achieved using the ‘shift up, throttle back’ technique.  

“This strategy is especially helpful when the field operation doesn’t require all of the tractor’s engine power,” said Mark Hanna, extension ag engineer with Iowa State University. “When you’re behind the wheel, if your engine speed never drops below 2200 rpm, you may find that you’re burning more fuel than necessary for some operations.”

A new publication from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach illustrates the results of the tractor fuel case study in northeast Iowa. Tractor Fuel Consumption at Nashua (PM 3063A) is available to download from the Extension Online Store,

The study summarizes tractor fuel measurements for both spring and fall field work including field cultivation, strip tilling and stalk chopping. Additional information will be presented at the upcoming Northeast Research Farm field day scheduled for June 24 at 1 p.m.

“The case study at Nashua illustrates a key point about on-farm energy management,” Hanna said. “Many opportunities for energy savings are tied directly to day-to-day activities such as driving a tractor. Using the simple ‘shift up, throttle back’ technique when you’re in the driver’s seat will reduce fuel consumption.”

For more tips on energy efficiency all around the farmstead, visit or follow @ISU_Farm_Energy on Twitter.

The Farm Energy publications are part of a series of farm energy efficiency resources developed by the ISU Farm Energy Initiative. The initiative seeks to help farmers and utility providers to improve on-farm energy management and to increase overall profitability in a rapidly changing energy environment.