Schultis Farms Case Study
Schultis Farms — Fairbury, Neb.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTION
As drought-like conditions forced Nebraska producers to irrigate longer and more frequently, Schultis Farms reduced fuel costs and increased efficiency with a powerful new propane engine.
- Producer’s fuel cost averages $8 per hour with propane compared with nearly $15 per hour with diesel.
- Low maintenance technology provides convenience and superior performance over diesel models.
Marvin Schultis remembers the days when propane was the primary fuel for irrigation, before cheap diesel prices in the 1970s and 1980s coaxed many producers to switch fuels. Primarily a corn, soybean, wheat, and alfalfa producer, Schultis has owned and operated Schultis Farms in Fairbury, Neb. for over 57 years. Until drought socked the Midwest, prompting him to take advantage of new performance-enhanced technology, Schultis ran the same irrigation engines for more than 20 years on clean-burning propane.
MAKING THE UPGRADE
Like 90 percent of the farmers in Nebraska, Schultis’ irrigation system draws from a well. As water table levels dropped during a period of drought, he needed extra horsepower to pump water for irrigating. A new propane irrigation engine proved the most cost-effective solution.
“The only reason we decided [to] purchase new technology was because we needed more horsepower,” Schultis said. “We’ve never had any problems with the older propane engine, but with propane fuel and the engine prices so low, we could afford it.”
With the help of his local equipment dealer, Craig’s Automotive, Schultis applied for the Propane Farm Incentive Program, sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council. He received $2,280 toward a new Buck’s GM 8 cylinder 5.7-liter engine ($400 per liter of engine displacement).
In return for incentive money from the program, Schultis recorded performance data on the new engine that will inform future product development. As part of his reporting, Schultis observed water levels, gallons used, and tracked his fuel savings.
“The new propane engines are just simpler and perform well. If they need plugs and minor service, I can quickly make those adjustments, whereas with a diesel engine, I would need to have a technician work on it.”
HIGH USAGE, LOW MAINTENANCE
After installation, Schultis monitored fuel intake and immediately noticed results. During the growing season, searing temperatures forced Schultis to begin irrigating in early June through September, running the engine 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Under demanding workloads, Schultis’ new propane engine proved powerful and reliable. The engine drew water from a 153-foot well at 750 gallons a minute, and by season’s end the irrigation system made 12 revolutions equating to 15-inches of water.
The new engine also proved convenient for Schultis during his busiest time of year.
“The new propane engines are just simpler and perform well,” Schultis said. “If they need plugs and minor service, I can quickly make those adjustments, whereas with a diesel engine, I would need to have a technician work on it.”
ADDING UP THE SAVINGS
Schultis saw immediate cost savings with his new propane-powered irrigation engine. Propane engines can cost up to $6,000 less than equivalent diesel models, and Schultis reported savings around $7 per hour in fuel costs alone.
“I run the engine over a 24-hour period, and some days it runs constantly,” he said. “If you figure up my current fuel cost at $8 per hour for propane compared with $15 per hour for diesel, there’s quite a cost savings there.”
When propane prices fell dramatically in Nebraska following a mild winter, Schultis capitalized on additional cost savings through his propane dealer and saved 10 to 20 cents per gallon by purchasing fuel in the off -season.
Schultis said he would recommend the program — and propane — to other producers looking to improve their bottom line.
“A propane engine is much cheaper than a diesel engine, even at the onset. People should really take a look at it and the [Propane Farm Incentive] program,” Schultis said. “According to my dealer, other farmers are starting to do just that. They simply can’t beat it.”