Agriculture is the backbone of our country. Keeping farmland well-irrigated is crucial for agricultural producers. Farm irrigation methods and technologies can maximize productivity while minimizing costs.
Energy-efficient irrigation methods help farmers curtail energy and water use while growing crops, reducing operating costs and increasing productivity. When choosing irrigation methods and technologies, the most important aspects to consider are cost, return on investment, convenience and minimization of risks.
One of the easiest ways to maximize energy efficiency is to use electric motors in place of old, inefficient diesel motors. Typically, electric motors are about 90% efficient, while diesel motors are between 30 and 40% efficient.
Switching to electric motors means cost savings in the long run for farmers. Electric motors also have lower maintenance needs and can be used with a variable frequency drive irrigation system, which helps reduce both energy and water expenses.
A VFD is an electronic phase converter, allowing an irrigation motor designed for three-phase power to run on a single-phase line. The VFD varies the frequency and voltage supplied to the motor, thus varying the motor’s speed and saving energy in the process.VFD systems allow farmers to pump water at different rates, which maximizes irrigation throughout the day.
Since there are many benefits from using electric irrigation motors, most U.S. farmers have switched from diesel motors—although pairing the motor with a VFD system is still a relatively new agricultural trend.
Variable rate irrigation technology has also improved irrigation system efficiencies. Water application rates can be adjusted or shut off along the mechanized irrigation system’s length.
Much like fertilizing where it is needed, water can be tailored in the same way. VRI uses GPS and geographic information system technology to prescribe a specific amount of water for certain areas of the field.
Irrigation system efficiency is an ongoing process that needs regular monitoring. After five years, irrigation pumps are typically evaluated for performance. This evaluation can help operators decide whether to invest in improvements to the existing pump or replace it.
Irrigation pump tests usually assess the pump’s discharge pressure, lift, water flow and power input. Regular testing ensures the pumps work as efficiently as possible.
Upgrading irrigation hardware also can improve the system’s performance. Replacing leaky sprinklers, for example, can save a significant amount of water.
Many new agricultural technologies are part of the precision agriculture industry —an approach to farm management that uses information technology to ensure crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity. The goal is to ensure profitability, sustainability and protection of the environment. Examples include autonomous tractors, crop-monitoring drones and robotic milking or weeding machines.
In addition to irrigation technologies, fields can be monitored via Wi-Fi-connected sensors. After placing sensors throughout their fields, farmers can track conditions using smartphones or computers.
Sensors capture data on light, humidity, temperature and moisture. That data goes to a server to be analyzed, then is sent to the farmer through the smartphone app. The technology allows farmers to set automatic timers for their irrigation systems remotely.
Factors to consider with this technology are cost, range, bandwidth and power.
As technology improves, there will be new opportunities to support the agricultural sector. Replacing technology that uses on-site fossil fuels—such as propane and gasoline—with technology powered by electricity will help improve energy efficiency and further protect the environment.
Publicly owned utilities are proud to support their agricultural consumers and will continue to help them determine opportunities to improve and meet their energy-efficiency goals.