Getting the Most from Your Energy Dollar...

Using Energy Wisely on the Farm and Ranch

There’s no avoiding this reality in farming: Direct energy* accounts for about four percent of farm expenditures; indirect energy accounts for about six percent. Because small farms operate on profit margins well under 10 percent, efficiency measures that reduce energy costs can make a real impact. *Direct energy consumption includes the use of diesel, electricity, propane, natural gas, and renewable fuels for activities on the farm. Indirect energy consumption includes the use of fuel and feedstock (especially natural gas) in the manufacturing of agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.

Efficiency Tips for Irrigators

Questions to ask:

  • Do you have a good procedure to determine when to irrigate and how much water to apply?
  • Do you use evapotranspiration - (ET) based irrigation scheduling?
  • Do you know how to estimate soil moisture by feel and appearanceoutside link?
  • Do the sprinkler nozzles on your center pivot provide a uniform application pattern along the full length?
  • Have the sprinkler heads and nozzles been on the pivot more than seven years?
  • Have you checked nozzle sizes on the center pivot to make sure they match the nozzle sizes listed in the sprinkler package printout from your dealer?
  • Do you annually check for pipeline leaks, missing nozzles, and nozzles that are not rotating properly?
  • If you have an engine powering the pump, do you change the oil and filter according to manufacturer recommendations?
  • Do the pump and motor or engine receive regular annual maintenance?
  • Buried pipelines rarely leak, unless they were not pumped out before winter. However, above ground pipelines frequently have worn gaskets and up to 30% of the water can be lost before it gets to the discharge point. Replace leaking gaskets and plug any holes in the pipeline.
  • The draw-down in a well increases if the screen becomes plugged. Increased draw-down greatly increases pumping costs. Screens become plugged due to mineral incrustation or from iron bacteria. Mineral incrustation occurs over time. By measuring the static and pumping water levels each year, the increase in draw-down can be measured and corrective action taken. Iron in the water usually means iron bacteria are present in the well. Annual chlorination will control the iron bacteria.
  • Maintain pumps regularly, including proper greasing and filling oil reservoirs every year. Adjust packing glands and adjusting impellers on deep well turbines regularly for efficient pump operation. Replace diesel engines with electric motors – that can have significant cost savings, depending on the price difference.
  • Most electric suppliers offer controlled (off-peak) electric rates for irrigation pumping systems. Using off-peak power rates can reduce pumping costs significantly when compared to regular power rates. However, off-peak rates should not be used with high-value crops like potatoes and onions. Talk with your electric supplier to determine if off-peak power rates would work for your operation. Typically, off-peak use will require a well capacity of 1400 gpm on a 130-acre center pivot or the capacity to irrigate in 100 hours per week. It works best for deep-rooted crops like corn or soybeans. Do you record the static and pumping water levels in the well every year?
  • If you have iron in the irrigation water, do you chlorinate the well each year?
  • If you have an electric motor, can you subscribe to controlled electric rates (off-peak) from your electric supplier?

Facts and Actions - Irrigation:

  • Use of a consistent method of irrigation scheduling can often reduce energy use by 7 to 30%. Using an ET-based irrigation scheduling system can ensure you are not under or over-watering the crop.
  • The average life expectancy of a sprinkler head is about seven to 10 years. The diameter of the sprinkler head nozzle is very important for uniform water application; and the nozzle diameter can grow with use, especially if there is sand or grit in the water. Poor application uniformity increases water pumping time and therefore energy use. Replace broken sprinkler heads as soon as possible. Do a “can test” to check the uniformity of the application pattern. Repair all leaks on the center pivot as soon as you notice them.