Irrigation – should farmers go electric?

Ron Sheffield  |  5/20/2008 11:36:15 PM

Farmer Neal LeJeune of Duralde, left, and Keith Fontenot, LSU AgCenter county agent in Evangeline Parish, look at a new 200-horsepower electric motor installed on a well at LeJeune’s farm. The motor will be used to pump water at 4,500 gallons a minute. LeJeune said a new diesel replacement engine would have cost $18,000 compared to the $14,500 cost of an electric unit. And the operating cost for the new motor will be $320-$380 a day, compared to $856 a day for diesel at $3.57 a gallon, he added. (Photo by Bruce Schultz. Click on photo for downloadable image.)

News Release Distributed 05/21/08

As prices for gasoline and diesel fuel have climbed to record levels, Louisiana farmers have had to face the increased cost of irrigating their crops.

“The simple fact is that it takes energy to pump and move water,” said Dr. Ron Sheffield, a water resources engineer with the LSU AgCenter. “Be it from a 200-foot-deep well or from the bayou next to a rice field, it takes energy to move that water where we want it.”

More than 90 percent of Louisiana farms irrigate with diesel-powered pumps, Sheffield said. As the cost of diesel reaches record highs, so does the cost of irrigation. This is compounded by the inherent inefficiency of diesel engines in converting the energy in the fuel to pumping power.

Diesel engines are only 25-37 percent efficient, compared to the 85-92 percent efficiency of electric motors, Sheffield said.

“This inefficiency is wasted energy and wasted money,” the water resources engineer said. “The cost of diesel today is around $3.75 a gallon, and the equivalent cost of electricity is 26.5 cents per kilowatt hour to pump the same amount water. Anyone in the country can buy electricity cheaper than that.”

Unfortunately, this is the simple side of the equation, Sheffield said. Switching from diesel to electric pumps is not an easy decision. It depends on the availability of 3-phase electrical power in an area as well as consideration of the charges that a local utility may require.

Sheffield said the cost of bringing power from the side of a road to a pump or well can cost anywhere from $7 to $10 per foot.

“Luckily, several utilities have developed plans to allow irrigators to pay off the installation over a five-year period,” Sheffield said.

He pointed out that the cost of electrical equipment is also a consideration. A 100-horseposer electric motor and a basic control panel would cost approximately $6,500.

“The switch from diesel to electric pumping needs to be a well-thought-out business decision,” Sheffield said. He said irrigation equipment companies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the LSU AgCenter can assist producers in collecting the necessary information.

“Producers need to also talk with their electrical utility to see what options are available,” Sheffield said. “But the ultimate decision, if this is a profitable decision, lies with the farmer and his or her financial advisers. However, with the cost of crude oil going up again today, more and more irrigators are seeing that going electric will help them deal with today’s high cost of production.”

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Contact: Ron Sheffield ad (225) 578-1057 or rsheffield@agcenter.lsu.edu

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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