Staying connected to fuel inventories helps farmers manage deliveries, costs and time

As Curtis Kornelson heads into his farmyard to harvest every morning, he knows he has a lot of equipment in play and all that equipment needs to be fully fueled and ready to do the job. That means knowing how much fuel he has on site and what it costs.

“The last thing we want is to run out of fuel,” says the Kindersley, Saskatchewan farmer. “The second to last thing we want is to pay too much for it. Farm fuel management technology helps us manage both of those risks.”

Kornelson uses the TELUS Farm Fuel Management system, which remotely monitors storage tank levels and sends him an alert whenever supplies are low. Threshold levels for alerts are customizable – Kornelson has his set at 20 percent – and are updated every hour. Once the threshold is reached, an alert is sent through the cloud-based platform to the user’s mobile device or computer.

“Every day I pull up the app on my phone and make a decision on whether it’s time to order more fuel,” he says. “We tend to use a lot of fuel right now, as we have at other specific points during the season, and this makes the decision-making process quick and easy.”

Managing fuel inventories

Traditionally, fuel inventory has been measured by visual inspection – that is, by walking up to the tank and either using a dipstick or viewing through a gauge. Accuracy could be challenging. Too little could potentially have machinery sitting idle or lead to carrying over too much fuel in the tank at the end of the season.

“Before we had this system, we had a string attached to a bolt in our tank and we would use that to get a rough idea of how much fuel we had,” Kornelson says of his own pre-digital technique. “We also have a meter on our fuel pump but often we would forget to reset that so it would be back to the string. It was hard to gauge and was a lot more work.”

It was this sort of challenge that led Decisive Farming by TELUS Agriculture to develop its Farm Fuel Management technology solution to improve efficiency for farmers so they could focus on their day-to-day work.

“When we start looking at new product development, we examine some of the more common problems that farms face and one of the first places we look at is the farmyard,” says Jeff Poppel, senior product manager with TELUS. “One area where technology and innovation can help is with inventory management – be that grain, fertilizer, chemicals, or in this case – fuel.”

Fuel is both a critical resource and significant cost for a farm operation.

“Our initial focus is fuel, which is an expense for all farmers and depending on the size of the farm, can be a big cost factor,” says Poppel. “The goal was for simple, hands-free inventory management that would work with all types of fuel storage.”

Managing fuel inventory can also help with efficiency and safety. Farmers can better manage traffic in the yard by scheduling deliveries when equipment is out in the field or during other low-congestion times.

Keeping connected

Kornelson started using the TELUS Farm Fuel Management system this June when it first came on the market. 

“It was pretty simple to set up,” he says. “The sensor sits at the bottom of my tank about 20 feet down and threads up to the dock which is affixed by a magnet outside with a solar panel to power it.”

The system is connected to a Smart Dock device and accompanying software which was co-developed by long-time TELUS partner North Star Systems Inc. The hardy dock was developed with Prairie winters in mind and is charged by solar power with two types of battery backup.

“It is a single platform with multiple possibilities,” says Curtis Kolibab, CEO of North Star Systems. “The device can be used for fuel, feed, grain – any consumable product in the farm. There are various sensors that are under development that will work to manage inventory in the way that we are able to look at farm fuel.”

The solar-powered Smart Dock is connected to a float arm that sends data to the cloud to be accessed by the user. It has LTE or LTE-M connectivity and is Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or BLE capable. With a GPS and built-in solar panel, it is certified for hazardous use.

“The greatest advantage of this connected inventory management system is the ability to become more efficient,” Kolibab says. “Farmers gain a greater understanding of their assets and the importance of having a line of sight on those assets. They end up making decisions not on what might be; they are making decisions based on what they know.”

The system can be used in most diesel or gasoline tanks and can be managed from a single app. The 3.5 lb Smart Dock is plugged into a sensor, connected to the app and is ready to use. 

Watching fuel for better efficiency

The benefits of regular fuel monitoring go beyond time savings. Regular monitoring allows farmers to take advantage of drops in fuel pricing when available. Knowing fuel levels can help improve efficiency and help reduce down time by ensuring deliveries are scheduled before supplies run out.

“When prices drop, we know we can take a look at how much space we have in the tank and make a quick call to our fuel supplier to take advantage of those prices,” Kornelson says. “Fuel is a big expense and when we are dealing with high prices and large volumes, if we can easily keep track in the busy times it takes some of the risk out of buying a pricey input.” 

Monitoring fuel usage can also help farmers identify potential waste and optimize fuel usage in their equipment. This can also yield cost savings over time and lessen possible environment impacts. 

“Commodity assets have a lot of price variability and are a big upfront expense, so careful inventory management can help make informed purchase decisions,” Kolibab says. “This farm fuel management system allows farmers to make real-time decisions through their connectivity.”

More details on the TELUS Farm Fuel management solution are available at decisivefarming.com/Fuel-Management. Farmers can also contact a Decisive Farming team member to help determine which tools best match their operations.