Propane is a Safe, Reliable, Cost-Effective Fuel for Irrigation Systems


February 9, 1999]

TULARE, CALIF., February 9, 1999 -- When it comes to fueling motors that power irrigation pumps, North American farmers are guaranteed a variety of benefits by using propane gas.

Depending on specific needs and situations, farmers can significantly decrease their energy and operating costs by converting from diesel, gasoline or electric powered pumps to propane-fueled units, according to the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and the Propane Education & Research Council, who teamed up at the California Farm Equipment Exposition to raise awareness of propane's proven track record. 'The use of propane gas will help businesses save money and improve their bottom line, which is always a fundamental goal of any successful operation,' said Rita Pecilunas, NPGA's vice president for marketing and member services. 'Propane-powered engines enable farmers to benefit from cost savings while ensuring that the energy they need is always available,' added Pecilunas.

'Farmers can enjoy immediate cost savings when they make the switch to propane gas,' said Propane Council President Roy Willis. For example, one equipment distributor in California's San Joaquin Valley claims that farms that have switched to propane-fueled irrigation systems have saved as much as 20 to 30 percent when purchasing new engines. After the engines are paid off, the savings are expected to jump to 30 to 40 percent, depending on utilization.

Willis suggests that farmers contact local propane marketers, as well as nearby equipment distributors that carries propane-fueled engines to learn if a switch to propane gas could save money. (Usually, these motors are produced by major manufacturers that also make gasoline and diesel-powered motors.)

Some Common Savings and Performance Factors: In many cases, farmers who use electricity to fuel irrigation systems may be subject to stand-by charges from their power companies. These charges, levied by utilities to offset the expense of running lines to remote areas, are incurred regardless of whether equipment is actually used.

For instance, utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric may have standby charges of up to $3 per horsepower (HP) per month. For a farm with numerous pumps scattered over its acreage, these costs may add up to thousands of dollars per year. 'Propane-fueled pumps provide numerous benefits and farmers only pay for the energy they use,' added Willis.

Propane-fueled engines also offer operational benefits over electric motors. Unless they're equipped with variable speed drives (an added cost); electric motors operate at a constant speed. The RPM of a propane-fueled engine, however, can be powered up or down by adjusting fuel rate. Thus, the engine's torque and horsepower output can be regulated to meet specific irrigation requirements. Specific torque output can be computed using torque curves provided with the engine.

Engines fueled by propane are comparable in price to similarly sized diesel or gasoline powered engines and can be slightly less expensive. In some cases, the purchase cost of environmentally-friendly propane motors can be further reduced through government-sponsored programs.

Additionally, propane-driven engines offer several operational advantages over their gasoline or diesel counterparts. Because they run much cleaner internally than gasoline or diesel motors, propane engines generally require less maintenance. Parts, as well as oil, remain clean much longer and require replacement less frequently.

Propane can be stored more safely and securely than diesel fuel or gasoline. Farmers throughout North America have frequently reported that remote diesel and gas storage tanks have been the targets of theft. However, propane is much more difficult to steal. Also, propane, unlike diesel fuel or gasoline, will not turn rancid when stored for extended periods.

The environmental benefits of propane-fueled engine pumps over diesel or gasoline models are well documented. Propane engines give off far less nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and other harmful, pollutant gases. Generally, diesel engines have NOx emission rates of 10-12 grams per HP per hour. New propane engines emit only 1-2 grams per HP hour. Farmers can breathe easier knowing that propane will not leave a dangerous and toxic residue like other fuels.

'For farmers looking to comply with environmental regulations, or just wanting a greener image, propane can be the clear fuel of choice,' Pecilunas said.

Meanwhile, propane also is a cost-effective fuel for other agricultural applications, such as stand-by electric generators and devices used to protect sensitive crops from frost and freezing temperatures. Versatile propane gas is used in many other agricultural applications, including equipment that de-horns calves quickly, humanely and virtually infection-free, heaters for greenhouses and orchards, and seedling planters. Working together to enhance safety, spread knowledge The Propane Education & Research Council works on behalf of the propane industry to improve safety, workforce training, efficiency and consumer education. The Council was authorized by the Propane Education and Research Act of 1996 (PERA) and created through an industry referendum in 1997. Funds are collected through an assessment process by which the industry pays a percentage of money on every gallon of odorized propane. The current assessment rate is 1/10 of a cent on each gallon sold. The resulting funds are funneled back to the customer through Council programs that improve operations, safety, and efficiency.

NPGA is the national trade association for the U.S. propane gas industry. With a membership of more than 3,700 in all 50 states, 37 affiliated state or regional associations, and members in 30 foreign countries, NPGA represents every segment of the propane industry. Over 90 percent of the United States' propane supply is produced domestically, and 60 million Americans choose propane, 'The Energy of the New Millennium,' as their energy source. The Propane Council and NPGA will be exhibiting at the California Farm Equipment Show and International Exposition, February 9-11, in Tulare, Calif., as part of an initiative to promote the benefits of propane gas. For further information on propane gas for agricultural uses, contact your local propane dealer or call the National Propane Gas Association at (630) 515-0600. If you have access to the Internet, visit the National Propane Gas Association's Web site at, or send your questions via e-mail to