With the current price of diesel fuel stuck at around $4.00 per gallon, our diesel-dependent agriculture industry is in a fix. But thanks to a small grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one farmer has invented a new device that chips away at some of that. At a cost of $100 or less, he came up with a hydo-powered system that replaces the diesel engine formerly needed to drive his irrigation system. At today’s prices, he estimates an annual savings of $3,500.
Crop Circles and Diesel Fuel
The farmer in question, Roger Barton, uses a center pivot irrigation system to grow alfalfa hay for his horses. This type of irrigation system is responsible for those distinctive crop circles you can see from up above. It conserves water compared to some other types but it requires a diesel engine to keep moving, and that’s where the trouble comes in.
A Simple Alternative to Diesel Fuel
Barton received a modest Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA, which enabled him to work with a pump company and pick the brains of engineers from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Together they came up with a low cost water-powered turbine that generates electricity for the irrigation system. Aside from saving money on fuel, Barton will save wear and tear on his irrigation equipment. His mountain-sourced water supply is under pressure high enough to damage the sprinkler heads, but now the turbine blades result in a reduced pressure that won’t cause damage.
Agriculture and Conservation
The consumer sector has a few things to learn from agriculture when it comes to conservation. Take water, for instance. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water use in the U.S. has declined over the past 25 years or so, even though the population has increased by about 30 percent and average use by individuals went up. The savings is mainly due to improvements in the agricultural and power generation sectors.
More Energy Savings for Agriculture
The new irrigation invention is just a small part of a much broader government funded program to support more conservation and alternative energy at U.S. farms. One standout example is the U.S. EPA’s AgStar program, which encourages livestock farmers to generate renewable biogas at their farms. The USDA also has a renewable energy program to introduce more wind, solar, biomass and geothermal at farms, and it is offering loans and grants for efficiency improvements in targeted equipment such as grain dryers.
Update and clarification (thanks to reader James Brogdin, see comment below): The $100 estimate refers to annual operating costs.
Image: Farm crop circles by dsearls on flickr.com.