Propane Fuels the Farm

January 2, 2016 02:04 AM

LP gas technology expands across agriculture

New offerings are rapidly developing for propane equipment, leaving farmers with more fuel options. 

Roughly 40% of U.S. farmers use propane technology on their operations and that number is rising, says Cinch Munson, director of agriculture business development, Propane Education and Research Council (PERC). 

With record storage of 100 million barrels, 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. 

An incentive program through PERC helps farmers incorporate new propane technology. Farmers can go to to see if funds are available for particu-lar equipment. 

“It’s an incentive, not a rebate program, so availability is limited,” Munson says. “We 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.

Most farms use propane to heat buildings—shops, greenhouses, livestock barns and more. Grain drying comes in second. “Propane has high efficiency, and grain-dryer companies continue to improve equipment and technology,” he adds. 

Irrigation engines rank third, as farmers capitalize on propane’s reliability and cost-effectiveness, Munson says. “Irrigation is a growing market for propane because it’s clean, affordable, reliable and efficient.”

Working with farmers to adapt, Bill Heese, sales account manager for Husker Power Products for the eastern half of the U.S., keeps an eye on new technology. Using an optional control panel, propane-driven irrigation engines can be monitored, started, throttled and shut down via 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,” Munson says. “With low commodity prices, everyone is looking to lower their input costs.”

Propane-driven savings will continue to increase due to favorable supply and demand projections for the next 10 years, Heese says. Propane is highly mobile and bypasses the high installation costs of electricity. 

“Electricity can shut you down in the hottest part of the year and threaten yield,” he says, comparing fuel sources. “A natural gas line might run nearby, but you’re still looking at big installation costs in many cases.”

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 4 Final regulations are in place, the challenges for engine manufacturers might drive  more farmers to propane. Some manufacturers might raise prices of diesel-powered machines to almost double, Heese says. As farmers search for alternatives, proven propane technology is waiting, with support in place.

Propane burns clean and more easily complies with EPA restrictions. “Propane is a clean burning, non-toxic, American fuel. It’s affordable and has benefits outcompeting fuel sources,” Munson says. “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.”  


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