Propane mowers save money, lower emissions, increase efficiency

August 13, 2018 By    
photo Courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

A propane-powered lawn mower can burn 600 gallons of fuel to upwards of 1,000 gallons in one mowing season. Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

The propane commercial lawn mower market is an ideal gallon-growth opportunity for propane retailers as landscape contractors become increasingly willing to transition to the alternative fuel.

According to research conducted by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) in 2016, more than one-third of all landscape contractors were considering an alternative fuel for their daily operations. Propane was the No. 1 answer respondents gave when asked which fuel they were most likely to use.

“There are some 20,000 propane mowers already operating in the United States,” explains Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development for PERC. “It’s not just a fad or some very niche market; it’s a powerful way for landscape contractors to streamline their business expenses.”

Propane mowers can burn 600 gallons of propane per mower to upwards of 1,000 gallons or more in areas with longer growing seasons, Wishart says. He urges marketers to be aggressive in targeting contractors in their service area in order to capitalize on this market. This often means expounding upon propane’s many good qualities and how lawn care professionals can benefit from them.

By switching to propane mowers, landscape contractors benefit in multiple ways, including saving on fuel and labor costs; being environmentally friendly; reducing maintenance; and eliminating the risk of spilled, wasted or stolen fuel. Many landscaping companies – and the propane retailers who service those accounts – are already reaping the rewards.

Entering new territory

 Photo courtesy of MFA Oil

MFA Oil staff members saw an opportunity to increase summer gallon sales by fueling mowers. Photo courtesy of MFA Oil

Seeing an opportunity to enter a relatively untapped market, MFA Oil, based in Columbia, Missouri, began serving the lawn care industry more than five years ago.

Tom Procter, director of service and safety at MFA Oil, worked directly with the Missouri Propane Education & Research Council (MoPERC) to identify a market segment that would make a difference in summer gallons; that market was lawn mowers. He also worked with MoPERC doing mower shows and conversion demonstrations.

“I enjoyed it and picked it up quickly and realized its potential,” he says.

Luke Fitzpatrick, district manager at MFA Oil and an LP Gas Rising Leader, is involved in the Missouri Propane Gas Association and was asked to be part of a group that, through MoPERC, informs lawn care professionals about the benefits of propane-powered mowers.

Meanwhile, Marty Mills, area manager for MFA Oil, saw a chance to work with larger lawn companies in the St. Louis area.

“I could see there was an opportunity for them to benefit from the savings of using propane, plus an opportunity for us to install filling stations to increase our summer gallons,” Mills says.

Procter and Fitzpatrick say they received some initial pushback from the company when they first presented the idea of servicing mower accounts, but eventually were able to pitch their idea to management and plant managers. After that, Fitzpatrick says, everyone was on board with the outside-the-box approach to gallon growth.

Encouraging the switch

Information from Propane Education & Research Council

Though this map depicts when a state’s typical mowing season occurs, it can vary year to year based on weather and climate patterns. Information from Propane Education & Research Council

Once Fitzpatrick, Mills and Procter had the rest of MFA Oil on board, they had to convince landscape contractors to switch from gasoline or diesel to propane.

The company went directly to the contractors to gauge their interest in switching over to propane-powered commercial mowers. Fitzpatrick says initial reactions were mixed, but once they got their first company on board many others began asking questions and it became easier to encourage them to make the transition as well.

If a company is unsure whether to adopt propane mowers, Fitzpatrick cites two ways to approach the conversation.

The first approach is to focus on the savings to the customer, Fitzpatrick says. There are operational-cost benefits on both the fuel and equipment maintenance. Because propane is clean burning, fewer oil changes are needed, he notes. According to Procter, MFA Oil shares a cost calculator with customers so they can determine the payback time frame or savings.

The second approach is to emphasize the environmental benefits. Switching from traditional fuels to propane is environmentally beneficial and allows landscape contractors to work during Ozone Action Days when gasoline-powered mowers are not allowed to operate.

photo courtesy of MFA Oil

To encourage potential customers to make the switch, MFA Oil loaned out demo mowers to companies considering propane. Photo courtesy of MFA Oil

According to Mills, MFA Oil also used site visits with one of its larger accounts to help prospective customers make the decision to start using propane.

“We took potential customers by this account to visit with their shop manager and let them hear all the benefits from someone else in the business,” says Mills.

MFA Oil also invested in several demo mowers that could be loaned out to potential customers. According to Procter, this helped make the decision easier for many companies.

Once a lawn care company decides to switch to propane, it has a couple of options for fueling, Fitzpatrick says.

MFA Oil will either place a storage tank, pump and motor on-site and let the customer fill the cylinders – an option that requires training provided by MFA Oil – or it can set up a propane exchange cabinet and simply replace the empty cylinders for the customer as needed.

According to Procter, it is more common for companies to fill their own cylinders than it is for them to exchange cylinders.

A clear-cut way to success

photo Courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

Propane mowers provide cost savings and environmental benefits. Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

MFA Oil has about 20 mower accounts, growing its annual sales in the commercial mowing segment by 250,000 gallons – a number that Fitzpatrick thinks will only continue to rise. The company works primarily with landscaping companies and parks departments.

Fitzpatrick, Mills and Procter have all received positive feedback from their mower customers. According to Procter, they have found that customers who make the switch are happy with their decision and continue to run propane units. Fitzpatrick notes that the companies have benefited from savings to their operations since using propane.

All three are enthusiastic about the future of the market, though there are still some hurdles, according to Mills.

To really grow the market, the industry would need to determine how to deliver pre-filled bottles to smaller accounts at a lower price than gasoline, he says.

Once the industry can solve that issue, however, the lawn care companies having three or four propane mowers would be endless, they say.

“I have a very positive outlook for the propane-powered mower market,” Fitzpatrick says. “I see a lot of potential still out there to capture.”


Entice them with incentives
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) offers incentives to landscape contractors who make the switch to propane-powered commercial mowers. According to PERC, many OEMs offer propane-powered mowers that are eligible for its Propane Mower Incentive Program.

Through the program, landscape contractors can apply to receive $1,000 per qualifying new mower purchase or $500 per qualifying mower conversion. This program has helped fund the purchase of more than 4,500 propane commercial mowers, according to PERC.

There are currently about 70 OEM dealer-converted mower models eligible for the incentive program. It is important that propane retailers share this information with landscape contractors considering using propane, as the extra savings could give them the nudge they need to make the switch to the alternative fuel.

PERC recommends applying for participation in the program before purchasing a qualifying mower or conversion kit. Lawn care professionals can begin the application process at propane.com/mower-incentive.


Available equipment

There is a wealth of machinery available to companies looking to switch to propane. Mowers already outfitted to run on propane can be purchased from OEMs, but if a company doesn’t want to buy new equipment, many manufacturers produce mowers that can be converted to run on propane.

    • Bob-Cat (OEM or conversion available with Alliance Small Engines)
    • Exmark
    • Ferris (conversion with Propane Power Systems)
    • Gravely (conversion with EnviroGard/Lehr)
    • Jacobsen
    • John Deere (conversion with EnviroGard/Lehr)
    • Kubota
    • Husqvarna (conversion with Propane Power Systems)
    • Scag
    • Snapper Pro (conversion with Propane Power Systems)
    • Spartan (conversion with Propane Power Systems)
    • Toro
    • Walker
    • Wright (with EnviroGard/Lehr)
    • Ventrac

The historical choice

Earlier this summer, Conger LP Gas, based in Tipton, Georgia, received positive publicity when it installed a propane fueling station at the 514-acre Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville, Georgia. The site uses the fueling station to supply its propane mowers and a propane service vehicle. The Andersonville National Historic site is home to Andersonville National Cemetery, the former Camp Sumter Military Prison and the National Prisoner of War Museum. – James E. Guyette


Powering up when others can’t

An Ozone Action Day or Non-Attainment Day is enacted by a local, state or regional authority when a region’s air quality is poor and deemed unhealthy for the population. Typically, Ozone Action or Non-Attainment Days occur during the summer months, when mowing season is at its peak in most parts of the country. According to Jeremy Wishart, director of off-road business development for PERC, days designated as such are major headaches for lawn care professionals.

“When an Ozone Action or Non-Attainment Day is enacted in a given market, the professional landscape contractor and lawn maintenance professional is one of the most heavily impacted businesses,” he says. “Work ceases, productivity is lost and your jam-packed job schedule becomes even more chaotic – unless you’re running propane mowers.”

By switching to propane, landscape companies can avoid the setbacks caused by Ozone Action or Non-Attainment Days. Propane is recognized as an alternative fuel and produces far less emissions than diesel or traditional motor fuel. Therefore, landscape contractors operating propane mowers can still perform mowing duties even on days when the air quality is poor.

About the Author:

Clara Richter is the managing editor at LP Gas magazine. Contact her at crichter@northcoastmedia.net or 216-363-7920.

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