My farm is a 30 acre certified organic operation. Half the property is open fields and the remainder is hardwoods. I grow a wide variety of vegetables on approximately 1.5 acres of the property, which includes one heated greenhouse for starting plants and two tall tunnels which are unheated. I hire part time workers when needed and I sell the bulk of my produce at the Columbia Farmers’ Market 20 miles away. I have a ¼ acre pond on the property that always had the potential to be used for irrigation. Prior to this project the irrigation water source was a county water system.
I have always used organic practices since I began my operation in 1989. I use cover crops, green manures, drip irrigation and buffer areas to protect streams from runoff.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
To create an affordable, efficient, and sustainable irrigation system for a two acre organic vegetable operation.
I had been using county water for irrigation of my crops and this was expensive. I have a ¼ acre pond on my property but had never wanted to use it for irrigation because it was lower than my fields and over 100 feet down the hillside. I did not want to use a gasoline or diesel powered pump due to the noise, pollution and inconvenience of turning it on and off. I wanted a system that was efficient, quiet, non-polluting and sustainable. I knew that if I could rely on my pond for a water source, combined with the use of drip irrigation methods, that I should be able to drastically reduce my cost for irrigation water versus county water. I also realized that I could capture the rain off my barn and direct it back to my pond for later use and thereby prevent wet spots and erosion that had been a problem close to the barn work areas.
Don Day, Natural Resources Engineer, MU Extension. Don shot the elevation that I needed from the pond’s surface to the top of the hill in order to properly size the solar water pump needed for the project. He advised me on the proper size pipe to use to capture the rainwater from the barn roof and direct it to the pond. He also advised me on the 1,500 gallon water storage tank that we used in the system.
Henry Rentz, Missouri Valley Renewable Energy, LLC. Henry recommended the proper size solar irrigation system to be used in my situation and he then installed it and instructed me on how to use the system.
The major result of this project and system was a drastic decrease in monthly out of pocket water costs. Typically our county water costs for irrigation during the hottest months of the summer would be $250 to $700 per month. In addition we were able to be more generous in our watering and therefore our crops produced moderately better. The total cost of the system was $5,930.37. My estimate of what my water usage throughout the year for irrigation would cost if using county water was $2,850.00. I calculate that the solar irrigation system will give me that savings yearly starting in the third year of operation.
I was also able to capture the rainwater off the barn roof and direct it all into the pond for later use with this system. My roof is approximately 2,000 square feet and so for each one inch of rain, I recover approximately 1,200 gallons of water that will later be used for irrigation. I also have now prevented erosion from occurring around my barn area and I prevent wet, soggy areas in my workplace.
Discussion: I learned that I should have acted on my idea for a solar irrigation system years ago and I would have been more profitable in my operation. At the same time I am seeing that there are other uses for solar energy on a farmstead. My system is very efficient and so does not really need to run for very many hours of each day. I suspect that I could be storing energy from my panels at these other times and even during the off growing season and making use of it in some way on the farm for equipment, lights, etc. This project is getting me excited about the possibilities for more creative ideas for solar and wind energy on the farm.
We informed folks in Missouri about our project through the following methods.
1. Newspaper article in the Columbia Missourian
2. An hour radio interview on our local community station, KOPN 89.5 FM
3. Power point presentations to Farmers Forum attendees at the National Small Farm Today Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, MO in 2006 and 2007
4. Power point presentation at Sustainable Living Fair in Columbia, MO fall 2007
5. Demonstration field day at the farm May 6, 2007
6. Article in Missouri Organic Association Spring Almanac 2007 with invitation to Demonstration Field Day May 6, 2007
7. Article written and published titled ”Go Green With Solar Irrigation” in Growing For Market Magazine, June 2007, by my wife, Diane La Mar.
8. Posters created announcing the Demonstration Field Day distributed to growers at Columbia Farmers Market and posted at various locations in Columbia and Fulton, Missouri
9. We had a visiting Korean Agriculture Specialist come to the farm for a personal viewing of the project since he was only here for a short visit in the states the summer of 2007.
10. Poster presentation will be presented at the national SARE Conference in K.C., MO March 25-27, 2008
We had 39 folks attend our Demonstration Field Day May 6, 2007. The Farmers Forum presentations at the National Small Farm Today Trade Show & Conference was attended by approximately 40 folks each year. Handouts were distributed at the field day and presentations that outlined the cost of equipment and installation of the system.
We have had a number of folks tell us that they are interested in seeing our system and we will continue to invite them to the farm for a mini-demonstration. We also are considering doing another announced demonstration in the future. Actually, we will always take the time to demonstrate the system to anyone who requests to see it. We love to share and teach.
I really appreciated this program. Farmers need to continue to be encouraged to be creative when
they are looking for new possibilities for their operation especially sustainable systems approaches. This is a real natural for farmers to do and they have a lot to share.