Fueling the farm: Time to consider propane

Steph Hennen South Dakota State University Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Leadership Graduate
Farm Forum

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Drive into most Midwestern farmyards, and you see a barn, tractor, a pickup truck, and you may even catch a whiff of the feedlot.

What you don’t see, is the fuel that is powering the operation. Fuel may be the last thing everyone thinks about, but it should be on the forefront of all producers’ minds.

“When choosing a fuel to power your farm, there are definitely sources that are more cost effective and cleaner than others,” said Mike Hennen, past president of the Minnesota Propane Association.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) commonly referred to as propane, is a clean burning fuel that can be used in many different aspects on the farm.

“The propane industry is constantly looking for more efficient and cost-competitive solutions for the farming community,” said Kenton Sonnenburg, CHS Energy Equipment account manager.

Its main use is for corn drying but can be used for other things such as fuel for irrigation engines, generators, tractors and trucks as well as a heating source for barns and shops.

“There are so many different uses for propane on the farm, we want to help producers become aware of this great opportunity,” said Hennen. “Propane is a simple transition for farmers to begin saving money.”

The Propane Education Research Council (PERC) has been working on ensuring that everyone understands the power of propane and what it is today. Currently, there is a lot of education being done with propane equipment.

“There is a lot of perceptions of older propane equipment and not understanding the technological advances that have been done with [propane] equipment,” said Cinch Munson, director of agriculture business development with PERC. “As an industry we are investing in equipment manufacturers to make agriculture operations more successful.”

Propane is an alternative fuel that is used all over the world and in the United States. A 2014 study of eight California producers, conducted by the Propane Education and Research Council, found there was a combined fuel savings of more than $86,000 when they converted their diesel irrigation engines to propane.

Not only is propane a cost effective fuel, but according to research sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is also very environmentally friendly. Propane has a lower carbon content than gasoline, diesel, heavy oil, biodiesel and even ethanol and when propane is released into the air the study showed it is not a greenhouse gas. In fact, the study found no impact of propane emissions on the global climate.

“Propane is important because it is an abundant fuel that is produced in the U.S. Propane is competitively priced based on British thermal units (BTU) output, is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels and has a longer shelf life,” Sonnenburg said.

According to another study done by Nexight Group and Energetics Incorporated in 2014, propane-powered irrigation engines release 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emission when compared to gasoline. Propane is also listed and approved in the 1990 Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

“Propane is the future of the agriculture industry,” said Hennen. “It is a fuel that the upcoming generations can easily get on board with.”

Steph Hennen grew up around the propane industry and has now worked in the industry for nearly six years. She graduated from South Dakota State University in May of 2017 with a bachelors of science degree in both agricultural communications and agricultural leadership. She will continue to pursue a career in the industry by working for Westmor Industries out of Minnesota. To learn more about Steph, you can reach her at Stephanie.hennen@superior-ind.com.

Steph Hennen