With record storage of 100 million barrels, propane production is on the rise and prices remain low.
“At first propane was about high diesel prices, but now there’s so much more happening,” says Bryan Rodgers. “Fill-ups, service, maintenance, and more; we take care of it all and that’s much less headache for a farmer and lets him spend time elsewhere on his land.” Rodgers, a salesman with Scott Petroleum, Inc., in Tutwiler, Miss., is watching demand build for propane engines on grain dryers and irrigation wells. “On our farms, I’m definitely installing more propane-driven engines.”
Roughly 40% of U.S. farms use propane technology in their operations and the number is rising, says Cinch Munson, director of agriculture business development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). In the United States, approximately 829,000 farms use some form of propane technology. Propane is ideally positioned at the overlap of consumer cost concerns and government regulation.
With record storage of 100 million barrels, propane production is on the rise and prices remain low. In 2014, producers saved 40% more on propane engines compared with diesel engines, according to PERC research.
Building heat is the primary use of propane in agricultural operations: shops, greenhouses, poultry houses, livestock barns and more.
Grain drying is the second most common use, as producers take advantage of flexibility on harvest timing and marketability. “Propane has high efficiency and grain dryer companies continue to improve equipment so it can work well for farmers wanting to do grain drying on their operation,” notes Munson.
Irrigation engines rank as the third highest segment of propane use. In some markets, producers are moving away from electricity and diesel engines due to propane’s reliability and cost-effectiveness, says Munson. “Irrigation is truly a growing market for propane because it is so clean, affordable, reliable and efficient.”
PERC also has an incentive program. Prospective propane purchasers go online (propane.com/farmincentive) to see if funds are available for particular equipment. “It’s an incentive, not a rebate program, so availability is limited. We quickly let a farmer know if a piece of equipment qualifies. If so, he can make the purchase, fill out information about his operation, and PERC writes a check.”
Producers sometimes also qualify for state and local incentives.
Bill Heese covers the eastern half of the U.S. as a sales account manager for Husker Power Products based out of Hastings, Neb., and is at the forefront of propane technology potential. With advantages in the optional control panel, propane-driven irrigation engines can be monitored, started, throttled and stopped by a smartphone, tablet, or computer. “In many cases there are operational savings with propane through lower fuel costs, certainly when compared to diesel, but sometimes even with electricity," Heese says. "With low commodity prices, everyone is looking to lower their input costs.”
Heese believes propane-driven savings will continue to increase due to favorable supply and demand projections over the next 10 years. Propane is highly mobile and bypasses the high installation costs of electricity, he says. “Electricity can shut you off in the hottest part of the year and threaten yield.” How does natural gas compare with propane? “A natural gas line may run nearby, but you’re still looking at big installation cost in many cases.”
When EPA’s Tier 4 final compliance rules come down, the challenges for engine manufacturers may drive even more farming operations toward propane. Some diesel powered units may almost double in price for some manufacturers, according to Heese. As producers search for other alternatives, proven propane tech is waiting with support already in place.
Propane burns clean and more easily complies with EPA environmental restrictions. “Propane is a clean-burning, non-toxic, American fuel. It’s affordable and has benefits over competing fuel sources, both in buying and operating the equipment,” says Munson. “It’s very reliable because like farming operations, propane marketers are small businesses, and not a faceless public utility. You can rely on a marketer to deliver your fuel.”
New offerings are rapidly developing for propane equipment. Munson recommends producers toss out any preconceptions and take a second look at available technology. “Today’s equipment is different. It’s built from the ground up to run on propane and can play a significant role in saving money for an agriculture operation.”