How many days will the fuel in your farm’s storage tanks last during the busy seeding or harvest season? If the answer is somewhere near one or two, it’s time for an upgrade. The gravity flow 500-or 1,000-gallon storage tanks on many farms have been in use for decades. At the same time, the rate of fuel consumption of ever-larger tractors and combines has been steadily growing.
Some machines can easily drain storage tanks of that size in a few days by themselves. Not to mention the other support machines operating during peak seasons which are also guzzling fuel. It many no longer be practical to depend on the fuel delivery truck pulling into the yard twice a week to keep you going.
“A couple of years ago we had fuel shortages,” says Ken Pierson, manager, oil and gas for Meridian Manufacturing, a fuel tank manufacturer. “It didn’t really impact farmers, but it was very close. And again this last harvest, if you talk to fuel suppliers, there was a major fuel shortage. Fortunately, we had the rain. That gave them (suppliers) just enough time to get fuel in. If it had turned into a few weeks of nice warm weather, it would have been a major issue.”
RIGHT-SIZING YOUR FUEL STORAGE
Having the capacity to store enough fuel on the farm to keep machines rolling through peak seasons could go a long way toward isolating farmers from that risk. But how big is big enough when it comes to fuel tanks?
“We encourage people to look at where they’re at. What are their plans for the next five to ten years, and what size of fuel tank will they need,” says Pierson. “The environmental farm plan was the catalyst that really started farmers looking at this.”
To help farmers plan a new fuel storage facility, Pierson says there are four key questions they should consider:
1. What is the farm’s annual fuel consumption?
2. Will they be expanding acreages or upgrading to larger equipment with higher fuel consumption rates in the foreseeable future?
3. What is the daily fuel consumption rate during peak periods like seeding and harvesting?
4. And, how much fuel are they comfortable storing on the farm to isolate themselves from short-term fuel shortages?
Aside from ensuring an uninterrupted supply of fuel to keep machines rolling, going to a new, larger tank will likely net some cost savings from a fuel supplier, too. Delivering fuel in larger quantities creates efficiencies for suppliers, and that can translate into a lower cost per litre for farmers. If a farm can regularly take a full truck load of diesel at one time, the savings could add up and at least partly offset the cost of a new set up.
“A tandem (truck) carries about 15,000 litres,” says Pierson. “With a 25,000 litre tank, you don’t have to be right empty to take a full load.” Meridian’s price for a tank that size is approximately $44,000. But that tank could easily last a couple of decades, making it possible to realize cost savings over its entire lifespan.
And Pierson points to a larger storage tank as a way to insulate farms from fluctuating fuel prices. “If you have a tank that size you can take a load of fuel before the price goes up,” he says. “That can pay for the tank pretty quickly.” Usually, suppliers know in advance of pending price increases, and they can inform producers to arrange for deliveries ahead of time.
Gilles Morel, director, fuels at the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, says farmers planning a storage upgrade need to be realistic about how much fuel they can use in a season. Having too much fuel in storage can create more problems than advantages.
“Typically, ultra-low sulphur diesel will remain stable for up to a year, so that should not be a problem from the point of view of stability,” he says. “But the longer the product stays in the tank the more susceptible it is to water infiltration or to condensation. The water itself is not the problem, but it will settle to the bottom of the tank and at the interface (between the water and fuel) it’s the perfect medium to promote the propagation of micro-bacteria. They become small particles that can plug a filter.”
And Morel points out that diesel fuel is manufactured to seasonal conditions. A large volume of summer fuel remaining in a tank mixed with winter fuel can cause problems in cold weather. Farmers need to avoid having too much fuel left over in the fall, or should have separate storage tanks for winter and summer fuel.
Pierson agrees farmers need to be realistic about fuel consumption rates. “You want to assess your situation so you don’t have fuel sitting around for a year before you use it,” he says. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s (AARD) website also points out the extra financial cost to farmers carrying excess fuel inventories can really add up. Interest paid on excess fuel purchases made on a line of credit can quickly eat into any bulk delivery discounts.
With a federal renewable fuel mandate being phased in over the next two years, Morel thinks farmers should keep in mind that this fuel will be a little different than current petroleum fuel. That adds additional considerations.
“People should be aware of the precautions necessary (for storing it),” he adds. “Generally it may not be as stable as regular diesel over time. The higher the biodiesel content, the more oxygen it contains and the more susceptible it is to problems over a long period.” Although, he says the federal regulations will initially call for a low B2 (two per cent) blend of biodiesel, which will be very similar to regular petroleum fuel.
A study by the Saskatchewan Research Council which completed last year confirms farmers will see little, if any, difference between B2 and petroleum diesel in long-term storage. If the mandatory biodiesel content increases in the future, however, that could change.
“(With biodiesel blends) it is important to maintain good housekeeping practices and monitor for water presence from condensation, infiltration, etc. in the storage tanks,” Morel adds.
Going to a new ground-level storage system could also improve safety for everyone. “If a fuel delivery driver falls off an overhead storage tank, whose responsibility is that?” asks Pierson. Elevated storage tanks also create a risk of falling over if they are accidentally hit by a machine. And their single-wall construction makes the risk of leaks from rust or punctures another problem. They can be placed inside secondary containment systems, but Pierson says that often means they are nearly always standing in water from rain which can’t drain away, increasing the risk of structural failure on supports from rust.
Some new machines can no longer fill from gravity tanks because their own fuel tank inlets are too high. And even if you can reach it, filling fuel tanks on large machines by gravity flow can make for a slow process. Newer pump systems transfer fuel much faster.
Pierson says installing new ground-level tanks doesn’t take a lot of site preparation work. Farmers can buy tanks with attached skids, further minimizing preparations. He says just a well-packed gravel base is adequate for this type of tank. “It’s very similar to site preparation for a bin,” he notes.
The AARD website also offers advice on establishing new storage facility sites. First, it recommends purchasing a double-walled tank to avoid the need to build a secondary containment system in case of leaks. Pierson says almost all current tank construction uses a double-walled design, although some single-wall tanks are still available for the time being, but that isn’t likely to continue for much longer.
“Concrete, compacted clay or gravel are all good choices as material for the (tank’s) foundation,” reads the AARD information. “The foundation area should also be kept clear of weeds or other debris that may pose a fire hazard.” Tanks should be a minimum of three metres from a building and six metres from any propane tank or ignition source. And erecting steel and concrete barrier posts to prevent collisions is a good idea.
Farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan will be able to take advantage of the Environmental Farm Plan to help pay the cost of installing a new fuel storage facility. For a link to the provincial plans, see www.meridianmfg.com/products/petroleum, or search the provincial government website for your province.
ScottGarveyismachineryeditorforGrainews. Contacthimatscott. [email protected]