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Requirement to switch to new sulphur-free fuel will be costly


Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare

Grain farmer Helen Harris on her farm in Co Kildare

We thought our diesel problems were over. During the cold spell our diesel froze in the tractor and every job that would normally take a couple of minutes took half the day.

When we asked our oil supplier if there was anything else we could do, they said that the anti-freeze they use is only useful to -12C. This, we were told, is a Government specification and it was colder than that, so there was nothing they could do. We did try some additives which claimed to have a lower freezing point but they didn't seem to help.

When the weather got milder we thought we were back to normal, until the Department of Agriculture inspector arrived. He asked us all about our diesel and grain dryer. He took samples of dried wheat that we had grown, dried and stored in our grain shed and gave us a sample to keep in a sealed bag. The reason for this inspection was because the pork recall a couple of years ago was traced back to the fuel used, which caused dioxins to enter the food chain. We can all agree both as producers and consumers that food safety is paramount.

Because of the pork recall, all grain producers must now have their diesel dockets and invoices stating that the fuel does not contain any "recycled or waste products". Some oil suppliers have yet to do this, but if farmers don't have it clearly stated on our delivery dockets and invoices we could be penalised and/or have our entire crop seized. This is a very serious financial penalty. The letter from the Department of Agriculture laboratory arrived with the results of the samples that the inspector had taken and we were delighted to see that our grain passed.

No sooner had we put one letter in the filing cabinet when another letter arrived informing us that we now have to change over from "green diesel" to Sulphur Free Gasoil (SFGO). It was originally supposed to happen in January but has now been extended to March. With the Department letter came an information fact sheet, but, apart from the fact that the fuel is going to cost us about 2.5c/l more than green diesel, I didn't take much heed of it. Until, that is, I started chatting to a neighbour about this new diesel. It seems we can't have any green diesel in our tank when we fill with this new SFGO. It won't store well so it should be used in six months and not kept for more than 12 months.

We may even have to change our storage tanks, as it won't store well in steel tanks and plastic tanks are recommended. At the moment the plastic tanks have no way to drain away excess water, which may be another problem with this new fuel SFGO. We will need extra filters or maybe absorbent gauzes in the bottom of the tanks to collect water particles. If you have a stationery engine like a generator or certain boats you can continue to use the green diesel.

There are a lot of worries and confusion about this new fuel. It will affect the engines of various machines in different ways. The new tractors are fine as they are fully compatible with this new fuel, but older engines may not be. They may develop leaks and you may have to replace pipes and seals. We had to change filters on tractors when the diesel froze, which is costly. Now we have to pay more for diesel and they tell us we might have to replace pipes and seals on older machines.

We asked many companies for a price for SFGO. We informed the oil companies we would only buy it if they had it printed on the docket that it did not contain any "recycled or waste products", which is a Deptartment of Agriculture requirement. Some companies refused to quote us as they would not supply us with this on the invoice.

We have had enough trouble and expense with normal green diesel in the past couple of months. What trouble and expense will the next 12 months bring? When it comes to fuel, we need to be both properly informed and properly supplied.

Helen and Phil Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kldare. Contact:

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