How Farmers Are Using Water Conservation

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Water has always been the first and most precious resource for any community.

Mark Twain would have seen this along the Mississippi River and the towns and farms it supplied. Then he would observe the role water played in the West when he followed the pioneers out to California and Nevada in the 1860s.

In modern times, no one knows better how vital water is to all of us than farmers. They need to keep their crops alive and flourishing but also be sure they are protecting their water source for all the dry seasons to come.

Farms, both big and small, are becoming examples for harnessing and preserving this life-giving resource.

100 Years of Water Use in Northern California

Farmers have come a long way in their ability to use water wisely. Take a typical family in Northern California. Many from this region have been farming the same 100 acres of land on the Sacramento River for 105 years.

Through three generations, the family has had horses, grapes, apples, nectarines, and apricots on the property. But the main crop has only changed once: peaches until the 1950s, and prunes to the current day.

The current farmers have a particular interest in water conservation. They have educated themselves on the best irrigation methods for crops in this area of the country.

Flooding the Crop

In the beginning, like all the farms in the area, farmers would water their crops with flood irrigation when the ground was dry. A pump would deliver water from a well into one field at a time. Water would stay in the field inside boundaries of built-up earth, and seep down to the roots.

Flood irrigation is simple and requires minimal equipment, but for most crops, it is an inefficient use of water. Often, it used about four acre-feet of water per year.

Sprinklers

To use less water and gain a little more precision about where the water went, farmers switched to a system of pipes and sprinklers. Workers would move large metal pipes from one section of the orchard to the next. They hooked the pipes up to the pump and pointed the spray directly onto the trees.

The sprinkler method used about three acre-feet of water per year. A significant improvement, but still not as efficient as they would like to be in a place where water supply is always at risk.

Hose and Drip

Now, the orchards used drip irrigation. The farmers lay flexible black roll pipe directly along the rows of trees, lining up the holes with the tree roots. Water goes only to the trees and is no longer watering all the weeds in the spaces between the rows.

The drip irrigation system has reduced water use to one acre-foot of water per year on some California farms. Combine this simple but efficient system with modern sensors to measure real-time water output, and every single drop of water is put to work.

Using Modern Tools to Measure Water

Finding the right method of water delivery for the land is the first and most significant step to managing your water source wisely. But modern-day farmers don’t stop there.

Tracking Where the Water Is

Farmers across the country use tools installed on their property to understand what the water is doing precisely on their land.

Ground sensors at one, two, three, and four feet deep in the soil track where the water level is below the surface. Ground sensors can be part of a tool such as a DTN ag weather station, which can send current moisture data and weather readings from each field.

A weather station can also tell the farmer what the soil temperature is, and how quickly the water is leaving their land and crops through evapotranspiration.

A pressure bomb can tell a farmer exactly how much water is available to a tree. Just before dawn, he takes a piece of plant and puts it inside the pressure bomb chamber. He then slowly adds pressurized gas until water comes out of the leaf or plant.

If it took too long for the pressure to extract water, the farmer knows his plants are not getting the supply they need. Taking a measurement predawn is usually the most indicative of how much moisture the plant has access to overall. However, farmers will often take a sample midday to learn about the stress level of the plant when the sun is the hottest.

Using Tools to Know the Weather

Every farmer knows the most valuable tool they have in conserving water is understanding the weather patterns in their area. The most efficient irrigation system is still wasting water if they spend one day saturating their crop, then watch the rain falling for free the next.

Organizations like the California Irrigation Management Information System will give access to weather data collected from a system of weather stations throughout a designated area. Farmers can learn things like:

  • How much water their kind of crop has used in their area
  • What the precipitation pattern has been in the past
  • What the weather is likely to do next.

Many farms see value in investing in weather stations directly on their property. Knowing precisely what the crop needs, and whether there will be rain soon, can save the farm thousands of dollars each day. And as more farmers become experts on what the water is doing on their land, they can work together to preserve the water in their area.

Taking Advantage of Water Education in Nebraska

The states of the Great Plains know how precious water can be. Eight states draw their water from the Ogallala Aquifer, stretching across 175,000 square miles. The U.S. Geological Survey states the aquifer level has dropped an average of 16 feet in the last several decades.

When the aquifer was being formed about 10 million years ago, it was fed by runoff into its western edge by the Rockies. That water source has since been closed off by erosion, and the water level depends solely on precipitation.

Farmers are Becoming Experts on Water Behavior

The farmers who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer know the urgency of using the water they have wisely. That’s why 1,500 farmers and cooperators have joined the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN).

The NAWMN is a knowledge-sharing group that tests out water-saving technologies. They share their experiences with types of irrigation, water sensors, erosion-reducing crops, and soil, among many other water-related topics. They are educating each other, and everyone who draws from the Ogallala aquifer will benefit.

Many farms in Nebraska use pivot-irrigation to bring water to their crops. Long pipes on wheels suspended over that crop rotate around a center pivot, creating the circular fields easy to spot from an airplane.

Pivot irrigation has been around for 50 years, but low-pressure nozzles and water sensors in the ground are making them more efficient than ever before.

When the surface of the ground starts to look dry, it’s natural to think it’s time to begin supplementing the crop’s water supply. But if ground sensors are saying the roots are still drinking, the sprinklers can wait a few more days.

A farmer can save about $2,000 for every 2 inches of water he doesn’t use. And that water stays where it is, ready to use on an even drier day.

Backing up Instinct

Strong instinct has always been an indispensable trait of a successful farmer. Farmers who know their land, their crops and their weather will have a much better chance of success. Today’s farmers know that. They still rely on their gut, but thanks to modern technologies, they can make informed decisions better than ever before.

The Issues and Impact of Energy Storage Technology

Renewable energy has taken off. Wind and solar in particular had grown rapidly, since they can be installed on a small scale and connected to the grid. This has created a number of problems for utility companies while failing to deliver the promised benefits because energy storage technology has not caught up. Let’s look at some of the issues with renewable energy before explaining how advances in energy storage technology will ease these concerns.

The Instability of the Power Grid

The rapid growth of renewable power has added to the instability of the power grid. First, the introduction of many variable power sources forces utilities to deal with varying power supply relative to demand. Second, the relative lack of energy storage systems means there is far more wasted energy than before. When there is a spike in solar or wind power, they can’t store most of it for future usage. This adds to the instability and risk of failure of local portions of the power grid.

If we had more widespread, efficient energy storage, energy producers could save power above the expected power created locally instead of leaving power companies to turn on and off natural gas turbines to meet variation in demand. It would also eliminate the need to build natural gas turbines as backup power sources for when new renewable power sources aren’t meeting expectations.

The Lack of Backup Power

Solar power has long been a source of power for off-the-grid properties. However, this is dependent on having energy storage on site, typically batteries. Yet many solar roofs were set up to minimize cause and maximize tax credits to the detriment of home owners. We can look at the multiple disasters that hit California along with their wildfires. Utility companies couldn’t raise rates to pay for more fire-resistant infrastructure. They could be sued for any new wildfires blamed on the power equipment. The utility company’s only solution as to turn off power to areas that were burning or at risk of catching fire, if they didn’t want to be shut down entirely.

California has one of the highest rates of solar roof installations in the world. Unfortunately, most of those solar roofs were connected directly to the power grid, and the home owner receives power from the grid. This minimized how much equipment had to be installed while giving them the ability to sell power to the grid and get power from the grid. The problem is that they couldn’t get power from the grid when the power grid was shut down unless they paid several thousand dollars extra for renewable energy storage; note that less than two percent of customers did this. That hurt the broader power grid, as well, since solar roofs couldn’t deliver power to the power grid when the power grid was shut down.

The greatest irony was suffered by electric car owners. Imagine being told that you need to flee the wildfires, and all you have is an electric car that you can’t charge. A few homeowners made matters worse by tapping into their Tesla car battery to try to power their homes for a while, draining it dry.

Yet those few people with battery storage systems were fine. Their homes were wired in such a way that they could pull from the battery power when the power grid was down, assuming they were ever connected to the grid. They could continue to run their air conditioners and other appliances though no one else had power. For those that had solar roofs connected to the grid and energy storage systems, the grid being down means all of their power went into the battery. That energy wasn’t wasted, and the family could use it.

Why You Should Be Investing in Solar Panels

The future is green, and it’s more important to get on board with it than ever before. The past year has seen countless climate-change related natural disasters, from the recent devastating mega-fires in California to frequent hurricanes sweeping the US and the Caribbean.

Solar panels are becoming much more accessible, for homeowners and for businesses. Traditional roof-rack solar panels can now be installed for as little as around $3,000, and are practically a no-brainer due to the energy savings you’ll make over time (you could even totally eliminate your electricity bill). Not to mention that you’ll be doing your part to help the environment in our planet’s time of need.

If you’ve always found chunky solar panels ugly and off-putting, business magnate Elon Musk has a solution. His electric car and solar panel company Tesla has recently unveiled invisible solar roof tiles. The tiles look exactly like normal roof slates, but capture the sun’s energy without drawing attention. These tiles are paving the way to normalizing sustainable, beautiful eco-homes.

To further convince you about seriously considering installing solar panels for your home, check out our list of top reasons why solar panels will benefit your household or business.

Slash Your Energy Bills

After the initial investment of purchasing the panels and installation, the energy produced is all yours. Even if you consume more energy than your panels can produce, you’ll make drastic savings on what you are currently paying by purchasing all your electricity from the grid.

You’ll make even more amazing savings if you live in a sunny state or country – prices in Brisbane, Australia, are particularly low to purchase and install solar panels. And as the city enjoys on average 261 days of sun per year, panels there will produce more than enough energy to power homes all year round.

Energy costs are only set to rise and rise – meaning that by investing in solar panels now, you’ll never feel the strain of your electricity bills going up again. This is an especially smart idea for business owners with fluctuating income, as you can more easily predict your cashflow with fixed energy prices.

Increase the Value of Your Home

If you are open to the possibility of moving to a new house in the future, you will be able to sell your current property at an increased value by equipping it with solar panels. It’s an attractive prospect for buyers if a potential home comes with very small or no electricity bills, so you’ll be making a huge return on your investment in this way, too.

Note: Be wary of ‘renting your roof’ to solar panel companies if you can’t afford to purchase the panels outright. You may want to ‘go green’ in any way you can, but buying panels is by far the most practical way to enjoy the benefits. The lengthy leases that come with rental panel contracts (often 25 years) have been seen to put off mortgage lenders. It’s highly recommended that if you want to benefit from free electricity and help the environment with solar, you should save up first to increase the value of your property – not render it unsellable.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

As we said, it’s never been so important to do your bit to save our eco-system. The polar ice caps are melting faster than has ever been recorded, and the earth is suffering terrible effects. As well as hurricanes and fires, we’ve also experienced floods, earthquakes and landslides all over the world this year.

Solar panels are becoming more accessible, for homeowners and businesses

In the large scheme of things, installing solar panels doesn’t seem like it will help much, but if everyone did their part to be more eco-conscious, we could significantly reduce the strain of destructive fossil fuels on the environment. By equipping your property with solar panels, you will save money while making steps to saving the environment – a tough offer to turn down!

Utilizing green energy within your business has even better rewards. Marketing your business as eco-conscious and sustainable is a great way to attract customers and impress existing ones. In recent years, studies into consumer activity have found that sustainability is a big shopping priority, especially among the millennial generation. Corporate solar panels will increase your revenue by expanding your customer base AND saving your business’s energy bills.

So – what are you waiting for? Contact a solar energy company today, who will be more than happy to assist you on your green energy journey.