Farmers Have Enough to Worry About, Three Ideas to Save Fuel, Water and Stress
Thursday, August 16th, 2012
Farmers have enough to worry about. So Sid Cameron, the Southeast territory manager for Valley Irrigation, offers three ideas to save on fuel, water and stress.
Tip 1: Convert pumps from diesel to electric.
“For a grower whose pump station or well is driven by a diesel engine, if he can cost effectively convert that to electric, the energy savings is tremendous,” Cameron said. In a scenario with an acre pivot that puts out 12 inches of water a year, Cameron calculated the energy cost for diesel was around $11,500 per year.
The electric cost to the same machine, the same amount of water application was around $3,800. When you take that savings and multiply it over the 25-year lifespan of an average irrigation pivot, you are talking hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings,” he said.
Farmer review: Allen Whitehead uses nothing but electricity for the systems on his 1, 600-acre cotton and peanut farm in South Georgia. “It was partly about price and partly about electricity being less trouble. We don’t have the issues that we have had with some older diesel engines,” said Whitehead. “(Electricity) isn’t trouble-free, but it’s better than anything else out there.”
2. Put new sprinkler packages on older equipment.
It’s understandable why growers don’t replace aging sprinklers. “The mindset is, ‘It’s spraying out water and I can see it spraying out the water. As long as I know I’m getting water to the ground, it’s OK,’ ” Cameron said. “They aren’t worried about the uniformity or efficiency, as long as they are getting water to the ground.
“However, it can make a substantial difference in crop yield – 200 to 300 pounds of cotton to the acre of increased yield.” Heads don’t need replacing every year. Consider a 10-year replacement schedule, which makes the cost seem like routine maintenance. “When you think of $400 a year to get a good, uniform sprinkler package, that’s really not a lot of money,” Cameron said. Growers may also qualify for grants through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Farmer Review: Adam Horne checks the equipment on his Pinehurst, Ga., farm at least once a year and will replace nozzles that are showing wear. But his family took advantage of EQIP in the past and likely will again. “(Irrigation equipment) is going to get worn out anyway,” said Horne, who grows cotton and peanuts. “But if you are going to get a little money to offset replacement and you get a better system in the end, you’d be foolish not to do it.”
3. Consider telemetry.
“Let’s say you have 15 pivots and seven of them running on any given day, most growers are going to check those pivots in the morning and check them at night,” Cameron said. “ And so you’ve got a lot of driving time, a lot of windshield time, a lot of gas or diesel fuel that you are burning just to go check on pivots.” But with telemetry, the grower can control or monitor that equipment from a computer or an iPhone or a Droid – any type of smart phone or computer.
And the cost-savings you can’t calculate is in quality of life. “The farmer could be watching his kids or grandkids play little league baseball at 7 o’clock at night versus having to go check on pivots.” With a telemetry device, if there’s not a problem, it’s not going to send an alert. But if there is a problem that the grower needs to address, the system will call you on the phone, send a text message or send an email.
Other companies offer telemetry systems, but Valley’s is cell phone-based, technology that the company finds is more reliable than satellite technology. The company also offers Base Station 2, a state of the art system that communicates via radio.
Farmer Review: When Rufus Short started farming in 1975, irrigation wasn’t as common. Along with the benefits of irrigation came responsibilities that tied him to the farm. Now, he feels free to leave, knowing his system will call him if there’s trouble.
“I can be away from the farm and have a life like a normal person. I’m not tied to the farm. … I can be off on vacation or at a wedding,” said Short, whose 800-acres farm near Americus, Ga., turns out green beans, cotton and corn. “You can continue life and still farm.”