MIDNIGHT IN POTATO COUNTRY. Besides a raccoon or a porcupine scurrying around to find food, there isn't a soul around the farm.
Until a pickup shows up and pulls up to the gas tank. Maybe an employee. Maybe a friend of an employee. Maybe a stranger. Certainly not the grower, and certainly not legitimate.
Within minutes, the lock is cut and the stranger is filling up his gas tank. For free. He drives off, having stolen fuel from the grower who paid for it.
When the economy is weak and demand is flat, growers must cut unnecessary expenses any way they can. Thanks to engineers at Bully Dog Industrial, growers can cut fuel costs substantially with their new Fuel Management System.
The Bully Dog FMS is used to regulate, monitor and secure bulk fuel storage. Designed for private fuel-tank management on a farm, construction yard or vehicle fleet yard, the system enables fuel tank owners to efficiently monitor, regulate and secure who uses fuel, how much they use and when they access the fuel. A single fuel management unit can control and monitor up to six fuel pumps.
Keith Mecham is an engineer for Bully Dog Industrial, which is affiliated with Bully Dog Technologies, which makes quality diesel performance products. Having grown up on a local potato farm himself, Keith knows the frustration growers have when they find hundreds of gallons of fuel per month missing-all from fuel theft.
"We started development on the FMS to try to control the theft of fuel on farms-people rolling in late at night and filling up, or an employee, after they're done working, filling up their personal vehicle and taking off. You have no record of it," he says.
Locks can be cut. Keys can be duplicated. PIN numbers can be divulged. Time clocks can be shut off. However, the FMS requires electronic key tags that are uniquely encrypted-differentiating between vehicles or between employees. The only way you can fuel up is by logging in with the key tag you've been assigned. (Each system starts with 20 key tags, and can be expanded up to 4,000 users and vehicles.) Each time a person logs in, the system records who it is and what vehicle they're filling up.
"It's gonna track the employee and it's gonna track the vehicle," Keith says.
Key tags will only work at the location they're programmed for, and each employee can be assigned the amount of fuel they should be using. A temporary employee? You can restrict him or her to 25 gallons a week. A trusted employee who's vital to the operation of the farm? Unlimited.
"If you've got a truck driver who only uses about 50 gallons a day or 200 gallons a week, you can set that up in the system. Once he reaches his limit, it shuts it down-he can't get any more," he says.
Because each employee can be limited to a certain amount of fuel, employees have very little incentive to let friends fuel up with their key cards-because it cuts into the amount they can use for work. And coming in late at night is out of the question, if there's a time limit enforced. If you have no business fueling up in the middle of the night, you don't get fuel.
"You want to make sure that you keep everything limited so there's no way someone can fuel when they're not supposed to," Keith says.
And you don't have to worry about inadvertently putting gasoline into a diesel vehicle. You can program the system to only allow certain fuel types for certain vehicles.
If a grower needs it, the system is set up to have odometer/hour tracking, so the system will track the mileage for a pickup between fill-ups, or hours for a tractor.
While all this is impressive, what's even more impressive is that this is half of the system. The other half-a complimentary computer software program-puts the data into numbers you can crunch. Data can be loaded onto a provided SD card, similar to the one in your digital camera. Once you transfer the data onto your computer-most computers nowadays have an SD card port, or you can purchase an adapter-you can generate reports or summaries for pretty much anything you need: fuel type, fuel pump, employees or time period. For example, if you only want to know how much fuel was used overall or by certain employees strictly during harvest, you can do that. All reports are generated in Microsoft Excel 2000 or newer. If you don't have Excel, it also works in the alternative Open Office version.
You can manage all aspects of the FMS through the control panel itself, providing security without needing a PC; however, a PC is required to generate fueling reports and review fuel logs.
Bully Dog started developing the FMS in 2006 and released the system to the public about a year later.
Distributing fuel equipment is different than distributing diesel performance products, but so far Bully Dog has sold several throughout southeastern Idaho and even a few in Minnesota, where they have a dealer, and the Austin, Texas area, where Bully Dog has a warehouse. Customers aren't just growers-they've also been sold to a construction company and a university maintenance crew.
Chris Fisher is a manager for Cedar Farms-Michaud, a branch of Wada Farms outside of Pocatello, Idaho. Previously, Cedar Farms-Michaud only had a padlock, so anybody who knew where the key was could take fuel. Despite the fact they asked employees to record their fuel on a fuel log, each month managers poured over the fuel logs and found they were missing 200-300 gallons a month. And recent high fuel prices didn't help.
Cedar Farms-Michaud had the FMS system installed in May 2008, and Chris was shocked to find out how much excess fuel they were hemorrhaging.
"After we put this in, it stopped a lot of guys from swinging in and getting fuel because they can't access the FMS." Chris says. "It's saved a lot of headache and a lot of time just sitting here, going, `Okay, we're short this many gallons of fuel. Where did it go?'
You can't track lost fuel down. It's gone."
Even though they've only had the system since May 2008, Chris believed that as of August of this year, it was pretty close to paying for itself.
It's not complicated to install-it comes with separate manuals for the physical installation, use of the FMS system and use of the PC software-but to conform to regulations, electrical installation requires an electrician. The system is engineered to be safe for use around fuel when installed according to National Electric Code by a licensed electrician.
Once the panel is opened up, it's apparent why no one will be getting around this system. The electronics are complex, and the unit is constantly powered with 240 volts. Any attempt to rewire the system would not be worth the risk of injury.
"You gotta be pretty stupid at this point to want to break into somebody's FMS and then try to circumvent it," Keith says.
So far, none of the customers have had complaints.
"Chris hasn't killed me yet," Keith says. "So far I think he likes it."
"It was worth every penny for what it cost us," Chris says.