Rice Farming

Go Electric

Combating the high cost of pumping with diesel
  

By Rick Bogren

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. More than 90 percent of Louisiana farms irrigate with diesel-powered pumps. As the cost of diesel reaches record highs, so does the cost of irrigation.

This expensive scenario is compounded by the inherent inefficiency of diesel engines in converting the energy in the fuel to pumping power.

“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.”

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 of water. Anyone in the country can buy electricity cheaper than that.”

Discuss electrical utility options
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 of the 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-horsepower 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 also pointed out that 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 also need to 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, more and more irrigators are seeing that going electric will help them deal with today’s high cost of production.”

Rick Bogren is associate professor, writer/editor with LSU AgCenter Communications in Baton Rouge, La.