Irrigation workshop introduces water apps for growers

Western teamed up with Nebraska Public Power District  You are leaving (NPPD), the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Clean Energy Ambassadors You are leaving and Central Platte Natural Resource District You are leaving last November to present an irrigation workshop for agriculture energy customers of NPPD members.

REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings: From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the Project offered an overview of load management and efficiency opportunities; the REAP program, including eligible projects and application guidelines; and a case study on a solar pumping system. Participants learned about REAP success stories and utility incentives, met equipment vendors and watched NPPD Energy Consultant Ronald Rose, Kelley Messenger of the USDA and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann demonstrate pump testing methods.

Troy Ingram, of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, (UNL) introduced two new mobile apps the UNL Extension program You are leaving developed to help growers manage their irrigation systems. Utilities and their agriculture customers can benefit from these easy-to-use tools, even if they were unable to attend the workshop.

Pricing water
The IrrigateCost app You are leaving models center-pivot and gated pipe irrigation systems and the most commonly used energy sources. Using information such as acres irrigated, pumping lift, system PSI, pump and pivot life, and inches applied, the app computes total irrigation cost, along with the total cost of owning and operating a system. It also breaks down costs by irrigation well, pump, gear head, pump base, diesel engine and tank and system and calculates per-acre annual cost and per-acre-inch annual cost.

IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)
IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)

Growers make a number of management decisions based on the annualized costs of owning and operating an irrigation system, starting with whether or not to develop land for irrigation. For a system to be economically feasible, the net income from increased yields due to irrigation development must exceed the additional costs of owning and operating the system over its expected life. Once development is underway, the app can help determine design choices, including selection of energy source for pumping water, the type of distribution system, and so on. Other uses for the app include:

  • Calculating a fair crop-share rental agreement
  • Knowing what to charge for watering a portion of a neighbor’s field
  • Estimating costs to pump an acre-inch of water to help you determine how many additional bushels of a crop are needed by applying one more inch of water at the end of the irrigation season

The app is available through most phone carriers’ app stores. iPod and iPad users can get IrrigateCost from the Apple iTunes store You are leaving for $1.99. In The Google App Store You are leaving offers a version of the app for Android users, also $1.99.

Pricing efficiency
IrrigatePump You are leaving helps to calculate the efficiency of a pumping plant and to determine the potential savings from upgrading the system.

Whether a pumping plant uses diesel, electricity, gasoline, natural gas or propane, chances are it is using 25 percent more energy than expected by the Nebraska Pumping Plant Performance Criteria You are leaving (NPC). A pumping plant meeting the criteria delivers the expected amount of useful work, measured as water horsepower hours, for the amount of energy consumed. The NPC is based on field tests of pumping plants, lab tests of engines and manufacturer data on three-phase electric motors.

The user enters six numbers related to pumping lift, pressure at the discharge, acre-inches of water pumped, fuel price and total fuel used. The app then calculates a pumping plant performance rating, provides an estimated cost to bring the pumping plant up to standard and the number of years for payback on the investment at various interest rates.

Both apps provide anonymous results that users can capture and email to their own devices. The cost of IrrigatePump is $1.99 through Apple, Google or phone carriers.

Ingram noted that these apps are new and have not been through a full growing season yet, but he has used them and other agriculture apps on his own farm. Crop Water, an app UNL developed for scheduling irrigation—specifically for Nebraska soils—has been particularly helpful, he added.

Farming goes high-tech
There are now apps for almost every aspect of farming and ranching, from monitoring invasive species in your area to logging machinery maintenance, and most are free or inexpensive. Utilities might consider giving agriculture customers apps that are related to energy and water management like IrrigateCost and IrrigatePump. Apps could be great small incentives and customer relationship builders.

Just remember that not all apps are created equal. Croplife magazine You are leaving suggests doing a little homework before selecting an agriculture app. Or, better yet, contact your local university extension service to find out what they recommend or offer. Farming is a tough job, and growers will appreciate anything their utilities can do to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.

[Editor’s note: Apps aren’t the only thing you can offer your ag customers. Contact Energy Services if your utility is interested in sponsoring an irrigation efficiency workshop like the one NPPD presented in Grand Island.]

Renewables information easy to access on enhanced USDA Energy Web

USDA’s Energy Web site, launched in January 2012, contains agricultural, economic and social data on renewable energy to assist stakeholders, public users and state and local governments in identifying opportunities, activities and USDA projects in renewable energy.

The Energy Web offers several associated online tools, such as USDA Energy Investment Maps, the Renewable Energy Tool and Investment Projects Reports, along with helpful state links to energy resources within individual states. These features allow users to see where investments have been made, follow projects, evaluate upcoming opportunities and contact regional USDA offices for technical assistance.

Responding to suggestions from users, USDA recently updated the online tools to provide new resources; new reporting features and the investment data, current thru August 2012. Ongoing comments and suggestions are welcomed to help USDA make Energy Web the go-to site for renewable energy.

USDA grants fund renewable, energy-efficiency projects in Western territory

More than 180 agricultural producers and rural small businesses in Western’s 15-state territory received grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help them reduce their energy use.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Aug. 17 the awarding of funds through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) totaling more than $11.6 million and covering all 50 states. “These investments enable our farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners to develop renewable energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements that will save them thousands of dollars in energy costs each year,” said Vilsack.

Award funding  is contingent on the recipient meeting the conditions of the grant agreement. Grants can finance up to 25 percent of a project’s cost, not to exceed $500,000 for renewables or $250,000 for efficiency. Eligible projects include energy-saving equipment, systems or improvements, energy audits and renewable energy development assistance. Applicants must be project owners located in a rural area, and the project must be technically feasible. An example is the Simpsons Brothers Greenhouses in Ovid, Mich., which received an $18,000 grant to make energy-efficiency improvements, such as installing greenhouse energy curtains designed to reduce energy consumption by 42 percent.

State, tribal or local government agencies; higher education institutions; rural electric cooperatives or public power utilities are eligible to apply for REAP grants. Utilities may also bring the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy into their communities and strengthen customer relations by helping consumers apply. Farmers, ranchers and small business owners may need energy audits or other types of technical assistance to improve their chances of receiving funding.

If your utility assisted a customer with applying for a REAP grant, share your experience with Energy Services. If you would like more information on the Rural Energy for America Program, contact your Rural Development state program office. Download the list of this year’s REAP awardees to see what kind of projects are receiving funding.