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May 8, 2019

Volume 3 Issue 4

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ILMA Calls for Economy THF Spec

Amidst efforts to rid the market of 303 tractor hydraulic fluids, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association has begun work to encourage development of a new specification for economy-grade tractor hydraulic fluids.

The organization, however, does not intend on issuing a specification itself.

Photo: Rob Crandall/Alamy

A tractor at a lumber mill in Coos Bay, Oregon. ILMA has begun work to encourage development of a new specification for economy-grade tractor hydraulic fluids.

“ILMA is not a standard-setting organization, but we would certainly support a body such as ASTM or SAE taking up the issue of developing an economy-grade specification for tractor hydraulic fluid,” the association’s president, Holly Alfano, told Lube Report. “For now, ILMA intends to work with the National Conference on Weights and Measures as they finalize their proposal for labeling requirements for tractor hydraulic fluid.”

Alfano anticipates NCWM will vote on the proposal in July.  

ILMA has already used archival material to define a basic set of viscometrics for properly functioning THF. The association is also working with additive companies to identify chemistries that should be used in the formulation of these products.

Doug Towns, senior vice president of Smackover, Arkansas-based Martin Lubricants, recommends formulating economy tractor fluids with virgin base oils and additives that meet minimum levels of performance in mobile equipment. He noted that agricultural applications should not be the only consideration when formulating THF.

“Most of the economy THF sold today does not go into agriculture applications. It is consumed in timber and construction applications more so than agriculture,” Towns told Lube Report.

As equipment ages and loses some of its mechanical integrity, it tends to leak, which leads some smaller operators to purchase economy-grade THF.

“For small operators, there is little time to fix these imperfections when the equipment still functions. Why would that operator want to spend two to three times more on THF if he is buying four to five buckets per week? He needs a product that will keep his equipment working until those repairs can be made,” Towns said.

Products labeled as 303 THF have been common offers for economy tractor fluids, but while JD 303 was at one time an active specification it was long ago declared obsolete and is no longer administered, meaning there is no verification of products promoted as such.

John Deere developed JD 303 nearly 60 years ago and replaced it in 1974 with J14B, which was replaced in 1978 with J20A. John Deere has declared all of those specifications obsolete and has two current specs – JDM-J20C and J20D – along with its genuine Hy-Gard fluid. Critics say JD 303 fluids do not meet the lubrication requirements of modern tractors and in fact can harm them.

The states of Missouri, North Carolina and Georgia have all taken legal action against companies offering 303 tractor hydraulic fluids.