In the world of a farmer, every day can feel like a gamble. With fluctuating crop prices, unpredictable weather, and significant reliance on equipment functioning properly, nothing is guaranteed day to day and things can change in an instant. Therefore, farmers must carefully consider their options when it comes to the agricultural equipment, tools, and resources they choose in an effort to cut down on costs and risk and improve their bottom line.

While diesel has long been the fuel of choice for many farmers across the nation, new emissions standards and innovative propane technology are making propane a viable option that an increasing number of farmers, dealers, and distributors are choosing; and they are experiencing great success.

Clean, American-Made Propane

As emissions standards became stricter in recent years, diesel engine manufacturers racked up significant expenses to develop technology that complied with the new U.S. EPA Tier 4 standards. For growers, that meant sharp price increases for new, certified diesel engines. Now, Tier 4-compliant diesel engines are more expensive than ever.

Because propane is a clean, more environmentally friendly fuel source that produces significantly fewer emissions than many other fuels including diesel, propane-powered equipment easily and conveniently meets regulations without the need for today’s complicated, costly diesel emissions controls or additives. As a result, propane engines are available at a fraction of the price, and are a cost-effective, efficient, and convenient solution for farmers.

In addition to routinely costing less upfront, propane engines require less maintenance, and repairs are simpler compared to Tier 4 diesel engines, saving farmers both time and money. As more farmers recognize the many benefits of propane equipment, there continues to be a shift in fuel preference and an increasing demand for propane agricultural equipment.

“With propane, you get out from under the diesel headaches with air toxic issues and finicky diesel particulate filter requirements,” explains Greg Gilbert, owner of Autumn Wind Associates, located in California. “In addition, the cost of the new diesel engine itself is 25 to 75 percent higher than for a comparably-sized new propane engine. Farmers want freedom with engine durability, love saving money, and at the end of the day, they can do that with propane engines.”

New Propane Technology

As emissions standards became stricter, the Propane Education & Research Council saw an increasing need for these lower-cost, efficient propane engines. As a result, PERC partnered with several OEMs to increase the available product line for propane irrigation engines to satisfy this growing consumer demand. The result was new propane technology that is highly efficient, extremely durable and requires little maintenance.

“Propane engines typically last longer than other models because they have less carbon going through them.”

Greg Gilbert

Owner

Autumn Wind Associates

“Propane engines typically last longer than other models because they have less carbon going through them,” explains Gilbert. Carbon is a primary agent causing engine wear, and propane has much less in comparison to the long-chain hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel.  “This allows them to burn cleaner with less maintenance and repair required, again saving both time and money. Plus, propane is easy to work with because propane company bobtails will fill the propane tank instead of farmers having to haul diesel fuel themselves. This saves additional labor and eliminates risks for hazardous material spills to water and soils.”

Over time, propane engines even cost less to operate. A two-year study from the University of Nebraska found that growers can save as much as $8,000 annually on a new propane engine, compared with a similar diesel engine. An ongoing propane engine study in California, funded by the Propane Education & Research Council, has also shown that new propane irrigation engines operating on farms around the state consistently save their farmers an average of 50 percent over what they would otherwise pay for diesel fuel.

Superior Performance and Efficiency

Mike Waldron, Agricultural Sales at Tradewinds Power Corporation in Sebring, Florida, explains his own experience in recent years with an increase in demand for propane engines and why his company continues to expand this product offering. “We’ve definitely noticed a shift in emphasis from diesel to propane over the last three to five years,” explains Waldron. “Of course, the immediate benefit of propane engines is that they are less expensive than a Tier 4 diesel engine, but there’s much more to it than that.”

“Of course, the immediate benefit of propane engines is that they are less expensive than a Tier 4 diesel engine, but there’s much more to it than that.”

Mike Waldron

Agricultural Sales

Tradewinds Power Corporation

In addition to lower costs and added convenience, Waldron explains that even the maintenance and repair of propane is preferable. “Tier 4 diesel engines require a mechanic to have special software, a laptop and codes to work on the engine,” explains Waldron. “The propane equipment can have the same functions without the complicated maintenance work. Propane prices have been great, making it a no-brainer recently; but even when diesel prices go down and the fuel savings are less pronounced, there are still savings in time and effort to consider on top of overall operation costs.”

Many of Tradewind Power Corporation’s customers are making the switch to propane and the company is taking note and following suit. “In the next five years, we’re going to continue to have a vested interest in propane to ensure our customers needs are met,” explains Waldron. “With lower cost of purchase, a cleaner burning fuel, and the understanding that farmers won’t have to worry as much about an authorized Tier 4 software-equipped mechanic coming in and making equipment decisions, the interest is definitely there and we believe will only continue to escalate in coming years.”

As an increasing number of dealers and distributors find success with increasing their emphasis on propane agricultural engines, they are finding their own ways to spread the word about new propane technology. “We bring propane engines to several trade shows to let them know that these aren’t the engines they were once familiar with decades ago; they are new, improved, and built from the ground up to run on propane and are highly efficient,” explains Waldron.

Optimal Performance and ROI

New generation, spark-ignited propane engines feature closed-loop fuel controls to maintain peak load efficiency. This allows them to optimize fuel usage without sacrificing horsepower or performance.  And new, highly-engineered propane engines are built to last with many years of low-cost, durable service.

As more farmers recognize the multitude of benefits available with propane irrigation engines, dealers and distributors continue to find success with increasing emphasis on propane irrigation engines.

Growers considering making the switch to propane engines can estimate their potential fuel savings and ROI for irrigation with PERC’s Irrigation Cost Calculator app, available in app stores for iOS and Android devices or at www.propanecostcalculator.com as a desktop tool.

Learn more about additional savings available through PERC’s Propane Farm Incentive Program and how propane irrigation can improve your bottom line at www.propane.com/farmincentive.

As seen in Diesel Progress North America.