In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency began implementing new emission requirements for off-road diesel engines between 25 and 74 hp. The changes since then have occurred in stepped “tiers” and, while perhaps not noticeable to end-consumers, have become progressively more stringent. The final stage of the regulation - Tier IV, effective Jan. 1, 2013 - represents the most drastic change to date, and will certainly be noticeable to everyone in the turf and grounds maintenance industry.

The final implementation of Tier IV will target a 90 percent reduction of PM (particulate matter) and 60 percent reduction in Nox (nitrogen oxides) from the previous tier. It's important to note that other categories of diesel engines have already gone through compliance (examples: over-the-road trucks and high horsepower tractors). Because of this, some of the technologies developed to meet compliance in those classifications of engines will likely be used as the basis for meeting the standards in turf equipment. These technologies include high-pressure fuel injection systems and various forms of exhaust after-treatment. Meeting the compliance standards in turf equipment will likely require the use of one of these technologies, or perhaps a combination of them. Although it may go without saying, these technologies will be accompanied by more sophisticated controllers and electronics packages, as well as likely changes to the cooling and other mechanical systems. As you can imagine, both engine and equipment manufacturers are investing significant resources to redesign the affected products.

But what does it mean? The implementation of Tier IV will affect everyone in the turf industry in the next two years. Primarily, after January 1, 2013, diesel-powered turf equipment that meets the Tier IV emissions standards can expect a price increase of at least 10 to 20 percent, no matter what brand make or model you choose. The most telling support for this projection is to look at products in other industries that have gone through compliance and compare the pricing pre- and post-compliance. Additionally, the change in technology will likely be accompanied by more sophisticated service and maintenance procedures.

The good news, in addition to cleaner air for our environment, is that there are options, but you have to act now. Putting a proactive acquisition plan together now could save your organization significant dollars in the coming years. Let's look at some strategies to consider:

If you are planning to purchase any products in the 25-74 hp range in 2013 (this may include mowers, utility vehicles, cultivation equipment, sprayers, blowers etc.), you may want to consider moving that purchase up to 2012 and avoid the impending price increase.

Similarly, you may want to flip-flop your existing schedule - move affected products into 2012 and delayed unaffected products to 2013. For example, if you're planning to buy a 35 hp large area rotary mower in 2013 and some smaller zero turn riders under 25 hp in 2012, it may make sense to flip-flop the order of these purchases.

With budgets being limited these days, another source of equipment could be the pre-owned equipment arena.

Finally, explore the possibilities of alternative energy solutions other than diesel (gas, hybrid, other). While the feasibility and economics of these solutions at higher horsepowers remain to be seen, the new standard on diesel equipment could invigorate development of these technologies.

The other good news is that your existing fleet of equipment is grandfathered in to the new regulations. You will not be required to retrofit any equipment purchased prior to the implementation date of January 1, 2013.

Now is the time to act on this information. Making Tier 4 and its ramifications known at all levels of your organization will not only help you make the best equipment decisions to meet your needs, it will also help you be the best economic steward for your budgeted money in 2012, 2013, and beyond!

Grant Young is director of marketing, commercial equipment at The Toro Company, South Bloomington, Minn.