Propane Can Do That

A highly efficient, cost-effective way to power your farm

Published online: Jan 04, 2018 Articles
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Propane is a powerful, clean, reliable and cost-effective solution for powering a variety of farm applications, including irrigation engines, grain dryers, building heat, forklifts, power generators, flame weeding systems, vehicles and more.

 

Irrigation Engines

Propane-powered irrigation engines include the latest technological advancements and features, making them a great choice for farming operations. These high-performing engines can provide up to 300 horsepower of continuous power. Propane irrigation engines produce significantly fewer emissions, allowing producers to easily meet Tier 4 emissions standards requirements without the need for complex engines with expensive diesel exhaust fluid and filters. Farmers who switch to propane irrigation engines cut costs on original purchase price as well as fuel, operation and maintenance costs.

Established in 1987, Shenandoah Dairy is a large, family-owned farm and dairy operation in Live Oak, Fla. The company milks about 3,300 cows annually and grows more than half of the cows’ feed on site with corn, sorghum, oats and ryegrass forages. It currently keeps 2,000 acres under irrigation year-round and harvests, stores and feeds 45,000 tons of crops annually.

After upgrading the majority of its 23-pivot irrigation system to Tier 3 diesel engines or electric motors, the company experienced performance issues and electronic problems that adversely impacted the farm’s bottom line and emissions goals.

“I was spending more time driving out to check [the engines] to see if they were working, or driving around to get parts when they break, burning more fuel and producing more carbon emissions than before,” says Ted Henderson, vice president of Shenandoah Dairy.

After discussing options with Todd Lawrence, general manager at the local farm supply outlet, Farmers Cooperative, Henderson decided to purchase a Ford 6.8-liter, propane-powered irrigation engine from Engine Distributors, Inc.

“I thought it would be hard to make the conversion to propane, but they knew everything about what I was trying to do,” says Henderson. “Propane already burns clean and meets all the specifications. There was nothing to do with it other than get it there and get it into place.”

The engine’s purchase price was $6,000 lower than the same Tier 3-compliant diesel model; the company also received an incentive through the Propane Farm Incentive Program sponsored by Propane Education and Research Council (PERC). Henderson estimates Shenandoh will save about $10,000 a year by using propane compared with diesel.

 

Grain Dryers

Producers have made propane their No. 1 choice for grain drying; in fact, more than 80 percent of grain dryers run on propane. With a higher BTU than natural gas and reliable on-site fuel storage, propane-powered grain dryers result in fewer shutdowns, smaller and more economical gas controls, and the ability to avoid contamination.

Established in the 1920s, Mape Lane Farms in Marietta, N.Y., has grown from a small, 100-acre farm to a 1,000-acre family-owned business. The farm includes 450 dairy cows and produces corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.

Today, Tim, Charlie, Ed and Karen Leubner—grandchildren of the farm’s original owners—oversee day-to-day operations. In 2013, they replaced an older model of grain dryer, purchased in 1980, with a new Matthews Copmany grain dryer with enhanced efficiency and features, including the ability to measure incoming and discharged grain moisture, more accurate and reliable moisture control and vaccum cooling. At the end of its first year in use, the Leubners cut overall drying costs by 38 percent per bushel.

“The new dryer always puts corn out at the same moisture,” Leubner says. “With it being so consistent and accurate, we are able to start harvesting earlier and get better grain quality.”

 

Building Heat

Propane-powered ag heating is a convenient solution to the consistent, comfortable temperatures and clean air required by livestock, poultry and greenhouse plants. Propane provides more even, precise heat, is cost-effective, and is a cleaner, non-toxic fuel that doesn’t contaminate groundwater or soil—making it safe to use around animals and plants.

Swift Greenhouses operates two 30,000-gallon tanks on its 4½-acre operation as well as propane-powered boilers, which heat water that is pumped through coils in the concrete floor, creating radiant heat throughout the room. Temperature sensors check the air around the coils, ensuring plants are at an ideal temperature for each stage of growth.

Swift Greenhouses grows roughly 1,300 varieties of perennials and herbs, requiring a diverse range of optimal temperatures for each type of plant and its specific stage of growth. Ideal temperatures also vary by time of day, another capability of easily controlled, precise propane heating equipment.

 

Power Generators

Propane generators provide clean, efficient, reliable prime or backup power anywhere it is needed on your operation, independent of the power grid. Not only does this ensure power with no location limitations, it adds control and ensures your operation continues to run smoothly even during a power outage. Because propane does not degrade over time, it is also always ready to go when you need it, making it the perfect fuel for standby generators.

 

Forklifts

Propane can efficiently power any size of forklift, from light-duty forklifts with less than 5,000 pounds of capacity to 10,000-pound-capacity heavy lifters. With their low emissions, propane forklifts are also able to operate both indoors or outdoors, unlike their diesel counterparts. In addition, propane forklifts do not require lengthy recharging periods, and the power and lifting capacity does not diminish with battery usage, as is the case with electric forklifts.

Renze Display uses propane forklifts to move giant exhibits and trade show displays, including displays for large ag shows such as Husker Harvest Days and World Ag Expo, around its warehouse and to load and unload its trucks. After purchasing electric forklifts in 2001 and 2004, the company switched to propane forklifts for increased reliability, which is critical to meet the company’s quick turnaround requirements when working with up to 100 clients daily.

“Electric forklifts were not a good fit for us,” says Bryan Meusch, senior exhibit manager at Renze Display. With propane forklifts, “there’s a lot more power and a lot more lift capacity to where we don’t have to worry about tipping over a forklift.”

Because the forklifts primarily operate indoors, diesel forklifts and their accompanying fumes were never an option for a clean work environment. Propane also fits well with Renze’s goals to be environmentally responsible, functioning on a closed-loop fuel system requiring no additional demands from the EPA for contamination or cleanup.

 

Vehicles

Propane is an alternative fuel for an operation’s trucks that can lower cost of ownership while reducing emissions. Powerful, clean and economical, propane vehicles reduce fuel costs while eliminating additional fluids and pricey particulate filters required by diesel engines.

The cost of wholesale propane falls between the price of oil and natural gas, making it consistently less expensive than diesel as fuel prices fluctuate. Propane engines also do not require anti-gels to prevent clogging of fuel filters and lines necessary for diesel vehicles in cold temperatures. With propane autogas, operators can also avoid diesel particulate filters necessary to meet emissions requirements and skip the downtime typical for diesel engine repairs and maintenance. Propane autogas vehicles also operate more quietly than diesel models without sacrificing horsepower, torque and towing capacity.

 

Flame Weeding

Propane flame weeding systems are a 100 percent organic solution for weed control that works in multiple growth stages and eliminates the need for herbicides. Instead, propane flame weeding systems remove weeds by using short jets of flame between the rows. The intense, focused heat bursts plant cells, causing weeds to wither and die without harming crops. And unlike chemical herbicides, there’s no resistance to flame weeding, allowing growers to return to fields almost immediately. Propane flame weeding also allows growers to avoid expensive, non-selective chemicals or costly, labor-intensive hand weeding.

Lee Newman, owner of Newman Farms near Sumter, S.C., is constantly analyzing and searching for the most effective, cost-efficient means of running his organic farm—which includes organic tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton. Because his products are certified organic, all farming techniques must be meticulously evaluated.

“Controlling weeds in an organic environment where you can’t use any herbicide is a challenge tobacco farmers have struggled with for years,” sasys Newman. “It was hard to believe a propane weed flamer could really remove weeds in the way I required, but I was quickly amazed at its capabilities. When set up properly, it will kill 100 percent of weeds.”

Before flame weeding, Newman Farms would remove weeds by hand, which was three to four times as expensive when compared to running the propane system. With lower carbon content than gasoline and diesel, clean propane is also non-toxic and insoluble in water—making it safe in contact with aquifers, streams and soil.

“I have been amazed with the system’s capabilities,” says Newman. “Even farmers who are not certified organic are experiencing benefits from using this method.”

 

Farm Fuel of the Future

Because propane farm equipment is EPA- and CARB-certified, built from the ground up to run on propane, and operates on an independent system to avoid grid-related power interruptions or gas line fluctuations, it is a convenient solution to meet environmental regulations and gain control over your farm.

As an increasing number of farm applications and new generation, innovative propane-powered equipment becomes available, propane is becoming the go-to fuel to power entire farms. 

To learn more about the variety of propane-powered farm equipment available and to view video testimonials, visit www.propanecandothat.com.