SCOTLAND'S farmers are nervous about the planned national roll-out of E10 fuels – because many are still suffering the after-effects of earlier efforts to 'green' the content of the diesel supplied to the farm machinery market.

The national move to E10 standard petrol grade this summer has prompted a DVLA reminder for those with vehicles and machinery made prior to 2011 to check that they can take the new higher-ethanol fuel mix. Currently, UK petrol is E5, meaning it contains up to 5% bioethanol. E10 petrol will see the amount of bioethanol increase to 10%.

Petrol vehicles and machinery manufactured after 2011 and most motorcycles are E10 compatible. However, some petrol vehicles made before 2011 will need to continue to use E5 petrol which will remain available as the super grade petrol option at the pumps. DVLA stressed that using E10 fuel in an incompatible petrol vehicle will not cause immediate harm – but continued use could damage engine parts.

Farmers know all too well what that means. In recent years, as the ethanol content of the red diesel used on farm has crept up, so have instances of fuel filter blockage. In chemical terms, ethanol is a 'hygroscopic' substance – which means it tends to attract water, and once it does, thicker sediments can form. This has been a particular issue on farms, where many machinery users store large quantities of fuel in their own tanks.

Now farmers and crofters face the uncertainty of what E10 petrol may inflict on older farm machinery – as of course many farms retain machines much older than that 2011 cut-off – as well as two-stroke implements like chainsaws.

The DVLA campaign on E10 states that if in doubt about the compatibility of a vehicle, owners can use the online E10 vehicle checker – – or seek further advice from the vehicle or machinery manufacturer or garage.

While welcoming the environmental benefits and opportunities that switching to E10 petrol on forecourts could bring – not least because that bioethanol has to come from somewhere – the National Farmers Union Scotland stressed that consumers must be protected to ensure problems like those encountered in agricultural vehicles are avoided.

It also voiced concerns about compatibility of E10 petrol with agricultural vehicles and equipment. Whilst the Department for Transport estimates that 98% of the roadgoing fleet will be compatible with E10 fuel, there is no information about how many off-road machines, farm vehicles or pieces of agricultural equipment may be impacted by the switch, particularly as the length of ownership of vehicles found on farms and crofts far exceeds that of the roadgoing fleet.

Chair of NFUS Legal and Technical Committee, Tom French, said: “The introduction of E10 petrol on forecourts this summer could potentially offer some significant additional market opportunities for some sectors of Scottish agriculture and there are notable environmental gains for the transport sector with the switch from E5 to E10 petrol.

“But there are concerns over the effect of the change in specifications and the new fuel’s compatibility with many of the older machines and equipment such as quad bikes and chainsaws that are in everyday use on many farms and crofts," said Mr French.

“It is essential that end users and consumers do not have to bear any additional costs and mechanical issues associated with the switch. Problems such as the fuel filter blocking disaster that many farmers have experienced in recent years simply cannot be repeated.”