Energy alliance showcases irrigation efficiency tools
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 11:30 AM
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Emerging technology may soon help irrigators save on the cost of water and electricity.
The non-profit Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance is demonstrating new technology that gathers information about the weather, soil moisture, soil mapping and works with center pivot systems. Some of the technology is expected to be available to farmers in the next one to four years.
The alliance holds field days Sept. 26 on farms in Echo, Ore., and Sept. 27 in Paterson, Wash.
There is also a demonstration farm in Grand View, Idaho.
"(Farmers) will be using less water, hence less electricity, nutrients, chemicals and labor," said Lori Rhodig, NEEA initiative manager.
That should mean an increase in profit per acre or more water for crop production on a farm, she said.
According to NEEA, irrigation accounts for 85 percent of the region's total agricultural electrical use. It uses 5 percent of the region's total electricity at a cost of roughly $335 million a year.
NEEA estimates the region's farmers could save 20 percent of their current electricity and water costs, and could increase their profit by a percentage point.
The alliance says the technology will become more important as water grows more scarce.
"It's really going to make (farmers) start really thinking about how they can conserve water and electricity," Rhodig said, pointing to the need for increased food production. "How can you do that with limited resources?"
Nicole Berg, partner on Berg Farms in Paterson, said there was a steep learning curve using the technology this past year.
"Projects like this bring agriculture and technology together," she said. "It will save a lot of money for farmers if they don't have to test-drive it themselves. We hopefully can document whether there is savings or (not)."
As with any new technology, systems are initially expensive, said Geoff Wickes, NEEA product manager of emerging technologies.
"We are now seeing these become more common and accepted, and the price is going to come down," he said.
Much center-pivot technology can be retrofitted to include the new technology.
"They're not going to have to throw away the whole piece of equipment," Wickes said.
"We're going to make it really simple," Rhodig said. "Long-term, we want the capability to be available in their hand-held devices for making decisions and controlling their irrigation equipment."