Make the switch to safer, more efficient fuel storage

When growers consider a new piece of high-tech equipment, fuel storage tanks may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But modern fuel storage and delivery is more efficient, environmentally friendly and, most of all, a lot safer.

“Whenever I see a fuel tank on a stand in a farm yard, my first thought is that it is simply not safe,” says Ken Pierson, sales product manager with Meridian Manufacturing in Lethbridge, AB. “It’s not safe for the owner, for the person filling up his equipment or for the fuel agent. These systems are almost always single walled tanks with no venting and a drain plug in the bottom. There are so many better options available that will turn what can be a liability, into an asset.”

While there are regulations around fuel storage and delivery, it can sometimes seem more of a hassle than a benefit to change out fuel tanks. Some provinces, like Manitoba, have strict environmental regulations on new systems, which can sometimes deter growers. Other provinces, like Alberta, have programs in place that help defray some of the costs of a new system as long as it meets environmental farm plan guidelines.

“Since Alberta has had the Growing Forward program in place, more growers are replacing their old gravity-fed systems with double walled fuel tanks,” says Pierson. “We now have environmentally friendly systems that have auto nozzles for more efficient delivery, drip pots for any potential overflow, and hose retractors to keep hoses tidy and prevent them from becoming a safety hazard.”

Gravity-fed systems deliver fuel so slowly that growers will often walk away and inevitably there is some overflow. “Today’s new double walled tanks fully contain any leak that may occur in the primary tank by the secondary tank, and the automatic nozzles help prevent any unnecessary spills from overfilling,” he says. “Regardless, a farmer should never leave the unit when filling is in progress.”

Dan Brewin, director, equipment, fuel and lubricants with Crop Protection Services Canada, says that his team helps growers design their fuel systems to meet various provincial regulatory guidelines. “We work with growers to design a site that meets their needs, meets regulatory standards and also makes the fuel easy to deliver,” he says. “For the safety of our personnel we wouldn’t knowingly deliver to an unsafe unit. Most of the time if we see an issue, we work with growers to bring everything up to current standards.”

Brewin says that most growers who choose to upgrade their fuel storage system are being proactive, as full containment will likely be the norm in the near future. But he says there are still many older, gravityfed systems on prairie farms.

“We still see a lot of fuel structures in metal stands, and many of them are getting to be 30 to 40 years old,” says Alan Vantol, business coordinator for the petroleum tank program with UFA. “In the past, a fuel tank has not been a high priority for small operators — they changed out their tank only when they’ve had to. But they are getting to be a bigger priority as older tanks break down and environmental considerations are taken into account.”

Is bigger always better?

“Choosing your fuel storage system is similar to buying a pair of shoes,” says Vantol. You don’t want them too big or too small. Too big and your fuel won’t be seasonally adjusted properly, which can lead to condensation and moisture in the fuel. Too small and you will be paying high delivery costs for too many top-ups during the season.”

Currently, most growers choose to upgrade their fuel storage because of the size of their farm, and the increased capacity of modern farm equipment. For farms in the 2,000- to 5,000-acre range, a 15,000- to 25,000-litre tank will usually suffice. If your farm is in the 5,000-plus acre range, a 50,000- to 75,000-litre tank will speed up efficiency and allow you to take advantage of bulk delivery pricing. Also, electronic pumps will allow for a 40 gallon per minute pump rate, which is significantly faster than gravity-fed systems.

“It really does depend on the operation and when and how they consume fuel,” says Pierson. “If a grower uses 20,000 litres of fuel in a year, then they likely will need two turns of fuel to get the right mix. So a 10,000 or even 7,500-litre tank would be fine. Most growers would need two or three turns of fuel to get the right seasonal mix.”

“The way that growers fuel their machinery is becoming more sophisticated, right alongside their bigger and better equipment,” adds Brewin. “Growers will want to have a big enough tank that they can take advantage of pricing opportunities, and have enough storage to get them through critical times. But they don’t want to be holding fuel that is not the right mix for the season or it could degrade due to temperature fluctuations.”

Brewin says that growers should also consider the proximity to their fuel distributor when considering the size of their tank. “Depending on where your farm is located, it might be more difficult to get fuel delivery during high usage times like harvest,” he says. “If growers have a good relationship with their fuel dealer they can usually get what they need, when they need it, rather than storing unnecessary fuel out of season. Often when tanks get bigger, the price will justify pulling fuel from a further location.”

Properly sized, modern fuel storage and delivery can be an overall asset to a farm. “In every industry other than agriculture, a double walled system with secondary containment is the norm,” says Vantol. “It’s only a matter of time until it is the norm across all industries.” Besides their safety and environmental benefits, modern, efficient fuel storage helps add value to the farm. FF