Farmers growing Australia’s food look to cheaper power as costs bite

Irrigation Australia

Adelaide will host the 2022 Irrigation Australia International Conference and Exhibition this October and for the first time will include a Renewable Energy Workshop as interest in renewables explodes amid soaring electricity prices.

Irrigated agriculture plays a critical role in feeding the nation, but its ongoing sustainability and competitiveness relies on reliable, cheap, low emission electricity and diesel for the pumping of water. According to the National Irrigator’s Council, 93 percent of fruit, nuts and grapes, 83 percent of vegetables, 48 percent of dairy products and 100 percent of rice is produced by irrigated agriculture.

The Renewable Energy Workshop on October 6 will bring together farmers and industry experts to discuss the uptake of solar, batteries, microgrids and agrivoltaics (the combining of solar and farming) in the sector and how emissions and power costs can be cut.

A session on future tech will see Neil Thompson, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, talk through the hydrogen economy and how farmers could be well placed to take advantage of these new technologies.

Mr Thompson says “Recent increases in gas prices on the East Coast of Australia have seen deteriorating margins in the ag sector. At the same time, volatility in diesel pricing has seen similar pressure on farms using diesel for vehicles and irrigation pumps. Accordingly, green hydrogen made from spare renewable energy and wastewater potentially offers some hope.”

James Stacey, an irrigator in South Australia who grows grains, oaten hay and livestock, has been using solar to reduce his pumping costs. He had expensive power bills of $5K or $6K a month before installing solar. His power bills have now substantially reduced, with the payback in about three years.

Mr Stacey says “We’re able to export to the grid so that helps generate a small income during the winter months when we don’t irrigate much.

“The rough pay back for our solar, was about three years so it stacks up economically for our business. It has changed the way we irrigate too as we used to only irrigate in off-peak times, but now we can irrigate when it’s best for the crops and for us.”

Anne Dansey from AgVic will be speaking about the combining of solar and farming on the same parcel of land. AgVic have installed a number of solar panels above a pear orchard to test the impact on the trees, with early results indicating reduced fruit damage by sunburn and improved water use efficiency.

Entry is included with a conference registration which can be purchased at www.icid2022.com.au

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