Sign Up for Can-Do Journal Updates
Doug Boyer had always wanted to work on a ranch. When he came across a remote vineyard property in Creston, Calif. with 22 acres of vines already planted, he seized the opportunity. Thirteen years later, Boyer’s operation, Last Frontier Vineyards, has 35.5 acres and more than 22,000 vines of Cabernet and white Rhône-style grapes. With costs for water, chemicals, and farm labor on the rise, the businessman side of Boyer was looking for ways to improve efficiency and save money. By switching from a diesel-powered irrigation engine to a propane-powered 4.3-liter GM engine, Boyer has significantly reduced his energy costs.
Making the Upgrade
The sandy loam soil at Boyer’s ranch only averages about 12 inches of rain per year, forcing Boyer to irrigate to produce the yields he needs to be profitable. After ten years of using an old diesel engine to handle his irrigation, Boyer was in need of an affordable upgrade that would meet modern environmental exhaust emission requirements while providing easier operation.
His engine dealer told him about the 4.3-liter GM engine, a V6 engine that is both U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certified to run on propane. He purchased the engine from local propane engine provider, TGP West, who told him about purchase incentives available through the Propane Farm Incentive Program, sponsored by the Propane Education & Research Council.
By agreeing to keep record of engine performance and efficiency, Boyer received $1,720 toward the purchase of his new propane engine.
As 2013 was an extremely dry year in the Central Valley of California, Boyer wasted no time and began putting his new engine to the test in early February. He expected his fuel costs to be higher in 2013 due to extremely dry conditions, but the efficiency of the new engine and the competitive price of propane combined to keep expenses down.
“I’m really happy with my propane-powered irrigation engine, for me the decision revolved around the cost of the fuel. The propane engine uses a little bit more fuel per hour than the diesel engine, as expected, but the cost of fuel is so low that it is worth it. To top it off, the new engine is really simple and I enjoy the ease of use.”
Last Frontier Vineyards
By switching to propane, Boyer was able to decrease his energy costs per hour by 37 percent. He had been paying approximately $11 per hour to run his diesel engine in 2012, but paid only $6.88 per hour to irrigate using the propane engine during 2013. Boyer is also happy to note that because propane is non-toxic, the fuel poses no risk of soil contamination through fuel leaks. The engine also reduces emissions, is quieter, and easier to operate.
“I’m really happy with my propane-powered irrigation engine,” Boyer said. “For me the decision revolved around the cost of the fuel. The propane engine uses a little bit more fuel per hour than the diesel engine, as expected, but the cost of fuel is so low that it is worth it. To top it off, the new engine is really simple and I enjoy the ease of use.”
Boyer’s results are typical, since propane contains less energy per gallon than diesel. When replacing diesel with propane, PERC research indicates farmers can expect to consume 1.5 to 1.6 gallons of propane to do the same work as one gallon of diesel.
Farming can be an expensive line of work. Fuel spending, however, is one variable that farmers can control. Based on results from 2014 PERC Farm Incentive Program participants, propane-powered irrigation engines can reduce fuel costs per hour by more than 50 percent compared with diesel-fueled irrigation engines. These prices can save farmers thousands of dollars over the life of an engine. Propane is an abundant, American-made fuel that burns cleaner with 11 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than diesel, and fewer oxides of nitrogen emissions (that are only a fraction of those allowed under the latest standards).
Propane is used on nearly 830,000 U.S. farms and PERC’s Propane Farm Incentive Program offers yet another financial incentive for using propane-powered agricultural equipment.
“When you look at the savings on the cost of propane, plus the incentive, it makes it an easy decision,” Boyer said. “It would be foolish not to look at the propane option, especially if you are in it for the long haul.”