Higher diesel fuel prices have certainly been the talk of farm country in recent months. In the wake of back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf Coast oil fields last year, prices spiked above $3 a gallon and remained there for a while.

As is usually the case when farmers zero in on an issue like fuel prices or Asian soybean rust, farm input suppliers are quick to respond with solutions, and Case IH has done that with improvements to its MX Series Magnum tractors.

“We regularly survey our customers to get input on what they'd like to see in their tractors,” says Roger Lewno, marketing and training manager for Case IH over-100 horsepower tractors and combines. “With the high cost of diesel, our customers, not surprisingly, asked us to look at fuel efficiency.”

Speaking at a Case IH media event in Phoenix, Lewno said Case IH will offer several new fuel-saving features along with some variations on older ideas that can help growers lower their operating costs in 2006.

Those include:

  • A 19-forward/four-reverse transmission option that reduces fuel consumption by 11 percent in transport mode.

  • Electronically controlled engines on all models with common rail fuel system. The electronic system monitors and responds to changing fuel conditions.

  • Constant engine speed control that works to keep the engine running at peak efficiency.

  • Autoshift, especially Auto Field mode, which automatically chooses gears to respond more efficiently to field and load conditions.

“When we look at our customers today, they're not farming a mile to the north or a mile to the south of their farmstead,” said Lewno. “They may be farming 50 or 60 miles away. Those tractors are on the highway a lot.”

He said the 19th gear concept works something like overdrive in an automobile. “If we're running the tractor down the highway, and we're trying to maintain 26 mph with the standard 18-speed transmission, we let the engine ride over rating so our engines, which are rated at 2,000 rpm, will run at about 2,200 or 2,300 rpm.

“When you shift into 19th gear, we will bring the engine rpm down to around 1,750 or so. We'll maintain the same ground tracking speed but because that engine is running 400 rpms or so slower, we're saving as much as 3 to 4 gallons per hour.

The new fuel-saving features are among a number of new wrinkles on the MX Series Magnum tractors that Case IH believes will help improve farmers' productivity and return on investment at a time when commodity prices are not where growers would like to see them.

One of the more interesting innovations Case IH displayed at the Phoenix event was its new Electronic End-of-Row that will be standard with its Performance Instrumentation package and enables control of all end-of-row functions with the flip of a switch.

As the operator approaches the turn-row, he can turn a switch that raises and lowers the planter or tillage implement, allowing the driver to focus on turning the tractor and lining it up for the next pass through the field.

“The Electronic End-of-Row function is great for planting, seeding, row-crop cultivation and other complex operations,” said Lewno. “Just one switch controls hydraulic flow at the remotes, the throttle, gear shifts, the three-point hitch, MFD and the differential lock.”

He said many of the new features are based on the results of a survey of 794 customers to determine customer needs and wants. Case IH representatives also interviewed 78 customers at their places of business.

Because many of the respondents said they wanted more power, the new Magnums will feature beefed up engines that are also compliant with Tier 3 emission control requirements established by EPA.

The top-of-the-line MX305 boasts a new 9.0-Liter, Tier 3 engine with 255 PTO horsepower, up to 50 percent torque rise and 37 percent hp growth. The MX215 now has 175 PTO hp; the MX245 offers 200 PTO hp; and the MX275 has 225 PTO hp. The latter are powered by an 8.3-liter, 505-cubic-inch, Tier 3 compliant engine.

“The new 24-valve, 2,000 rpm-rated engines are at the heart of the new MX Magnum Series improvements,” says Lewno. “These engines are electronically controlled with a new high-pressure, common rail fuel injection system that's quieter, cleaner and more powerful than previous models.

“Electronic engines monitor and respond better to changing conditions, improving engine life and reducing overall fuel consumption.”

The new engines also feature an efficient cross-flow head design system that intakes air from one side and vents exhaust directly out the other side. “Compared to systems that exhaust air on the same side of the air intake, the cross-flow head keeps air cooler, provides smooth air flow and better coolant circulation for longer engine life.”

The air intake and air cleaning systems also have been redesigned. Drawing air from the top of the front of the grill allows about 15 percent more air flow than previous Magnum tractors.

The new Magnums will offer three full Powershift transmission options: the standard 18F/4R speed transmission; a new 19F/4R option with a special 19th gear designed to conserve fuel during transport; or the 23F/6R transmission with shift-through creeper speeds for specialty crops that require very slow field speeds.

The extra road gear in the 19F/4R transmission produces a maximum speed of 25 mph at a reduced engine RPM to save fuel. “It's an ideal option for operations requiring long distance hauling or transport,” says Lewno.

“Our tests have shown that the 19th gear transport option can reduce fuel usage during transport by 11 percent. That means with just 300 hours of transport, a producer can more than cover the cost of the feature. And as fuel prices continue to rise, that window will only shrink.”

To help farmers spend more time operating tractors in the field, all models of the new MX Magnums have an expanded 180-gallon fuel tank.

Another performance enhancing feature includes a re-sculpted front end, that provides the industry's tightest turning radius — 16 feet for standard “R34” tires — for an MFD tractor on 30-inch rows, according to Case IH.

When equipped with an optional high-flow hydraulic pump, the new MX Series tractors also deliver industry leading hydraulic flow — 58 gallons per minute — and increased lift capacity on the MX 275 and MX305.

“With the optional hitch, you can get up to 17,920 pounds of lift capacity for high-demand applications, such as planting and deep tillage with bedders, rippers and drills,” Lewno said.

The electrical system has also been upgraded with higher capacity alternators that provide electrical capacity to meet customer demand day and night. Operators can choose from a standard 150-amp, 12-volt alternator or the 175-amp option for use with implements with higher electrical requirements, electric motors or additional lighting.

A new optional lighting package offers producers 360-degree lighting, with three front, high intensity discharge (HID) lights, two rear HID lights, two side cab roof lights and delayed egress lighting to allow the operator to exit the cab safely in the dark.

“With the increased transport requirements, it's important that we provide good visibility for operators on the highway at night,” said Lewno. “And increasing night-time visibility gives operators more productive hours in the field.”

The redesigned MX Magnum tractors also offer operators increased comfort and convenience, features suggested by customers in the survey conducted by Case IH.

The new Magnum offers what Case IH says is the industry's largest quietest cab, rated at 70 dB(A), a measurement of audible sound. The Case IH Surveyor cab provides 360-degree visibility, with 10 percent more glass and 13 percent more cab volume than most competitive models.

The cab height also has been raised 4 inches for better forward visibility.

With the increased glass and volume, a new automatic temperature control system provides full air recirculation with a better air seal between the hood and cab improving operator comfort and safety. A new, insulated muffler also helps reduce noise and temperature issues.

“Our goal with the MX Series Magnum design was to make the long days seem a bit shorter,” says Lewno. “Producers can also choose a suspended front axle option to improve ride quality and allow increased speeds both in the field and on the road.”

e-mail: flaws@prismb2b.com