Field Days demonstrate potential savings for growers
By Lori Rhodig, NEEA initiative manager
Last September on Berg Farms in Paterson, Wash., growers and irrigators got a close-up look at new, energy-efficient irrigation technology that will offer better control of watering, producing crops more efficiently and profitably.
Hosted by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) with Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Oregon State University and Northwest growers, the “Field Days” demonstration was part of NEEA’s Agricultural Irrigation Energy Efficiency initiative. Also attending were manufacturers and service providers who displayed some of the latest equipment and technology available to growers.
The initiative will help integrate existing technologies in the field, such as soil monitoring and weather data, that haven’t traditionally communicated with each other. This data will be easily accessed by growers.
Throughout the year, NEEA’s team collected and monitored soil moisture, weather data and conducted tests. The test results will lead to giving regional growers more control over how they operate their fields. For example, by using hand-held devices, growers can map out their fields, use collected data to calculate how much water is needed and tie this information back into their irrigation controls—all from the palm of their hand.
With soil maps and probes and integrating weather, evapotranspiration and other data, farmers can improve and enhance the profitability and utilization of water and electricity according to Geoff Wickes, product manager of emerging technologies at NEEA who worked on the agricultural initiative over the spring and summer on Northwest farms, including Berg Farms. “Right now, irrigation accounts for roughly 5 percent of the load in the Northwest. There’s a huge opportunity as far as energy savings,” said Wickes.
Water is becoming a scarce commodity worldwide, and it will be a problem in the Northwest in the future. The merging of technologies will enable the better use of water.
The initiative hopes to improve the efficiency of water within large-scale irrigation facilities across the Northwest.
The goal is to accelerate energy savings in the Northwest by 20 percent by 2020, accomplished through lower energy use and reduced operating costs, while improving profit per acre for the region’s growers.
“By putting the right amount of water at the right place at the right time within the field, that is a whole new level of precision application of water and fertilizer,” said Tom Osborn, a BPA engineer based in Walla Walla, Wash.
“Most farms and most farmers are into becoming even more efficient and more interested in technology. There’s a whole new layer that has not been explored on how they can get more yield out of that section and apply less fertilizer on that section and not affect the performance and the crop yields on their farm.”
Berg Farms, who hosted Field Days and was a part of last spring’s tests, has had success in implementing existing technology with new equipment. There has been a learning curve but that’s expected—and one of the reasons for Field Days.
“There are some challenges with the technologies and integration of this project, and that’s another phase. We’re trying to work these bugs out with the demonstrations. We’re trying to drive the market to use data exchange standards, much like a USB stick and the protocol associated with that,” said Wickes.
Nicole Berg of Berg Farms says the key to the success of the initiative is collaboration, including working with NEEA, BPA and manufacturers of irrigation equipment. “It’s an important part in dealing with upgrades in technology, and it’s important to have somebody test drive it for you first,” she said.
“When you deal with systems like ours with variable speed drives and pumps at the river, there’s a lot of moving parts with it. Yet if you can be more efficient as a farmer, we’re more than willing to adopt technology any time, any place we can.”
NEEA plans to continue to engage with regional growers and irrigation equipment suppliers for their feedback, demonstrate the business case for the initiative, continue testing and provide education and outreach about the initiative to the region’s growers. NEEA’s initial results and project information from the studies will be available soon. For more information on the NEEA initiative, please visit http://neea.org/initiatives/industrial/agriculture.