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Farmer questions the cost of not using on-farm renewable energy

By Spencer Fowler Steen

Renewables are saving farmers time, money and effort while drastically reducing their carbon footprint, and one farmer believes it's time Goulburn Valley farmers considered the cost of not investing in them.

Karin Stark, a farmer from Narromine in central-west NSW, was spending $400,000 to pump irrigation water each summer for cotton using diesel.

Adamant there was a cheaper, greener solution, Ms Stark installed a 500 kW solar-diesel pump in 2018.

“Since then, we've saved $180,000 of diesel every year and 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere each year — that's 40 households worth of carbon dioxide.”

Ms Stark said the kicker was the system had a five-year payback, which she was on track to achieving.

“It really builds farm resilience; we’ve had severe droughts and fire, so saving $180,000 every year gives us a buffer.”

On-farm renewable energy solutions are being utilised in a variety of different farming industries including dairy, beef and horticulture.

Solar irrigation is well suited to orchards which need irrigation all year round, while beef farms are also utilising small-scale solar pumps effectively with a 1.5 to 2.5 year payback time, Ms Stark said.

Even dairies, which often use energy at off-peak solar times, are making the most out of cheap energy from the sun.

Keemin Energy Solutions principal John Cutler has been busy helping dairies across Victoria utilise renewable energy — often at no cost to the farmer — to save them massive amounts of money, time and effort.

Mr Cutler said for a typical dairy, two thirds of power consumption went towards hot water usage and refrigeration.

“You can use solar in the middle of the day to chill water for free, then use that in your afternoon milking to bring down your milk temperature to six degrees to deliver to the vat, improving the quality of the bacteria in the milk,” he said.

“You can also get heat recovery on refrigeration allowing you to deliver 55 degree hot water for free.

“You do have to use supplementary heating for sterilisation but you’re only lifting the temperature from 55 as opposed to 15 degrees, so the energy consumption is smashed.”

Mr Cutler said dairy farmers could install these "dead cheap" thermal recovery and solar systems for free using government grants and subsidies.

“We develop a finance package which means the farmer doesn’t have to find any money at all because it’s on a lease program, and the cost of the lease is covered by the savings so it’s self-funded.”

But so far, Mr Cutler said he hadn't installed any renewable systems on dairies in the Greater Shepparton area.

“The problem facing dairy farmers is they’ve been smashed financially for a long time, they have low cash reserves and are apprehensive as to reinvesting in their business,” he said.

“The other problem is that they’re that bloody tired — they work seven days a week — so it’s difficult to have the opportunity to sit down and plan this stuff, it’s difficult.

“But they have to force themselves to make that time.”

To get in contact with Keemin Energy Solutions, call 5368 2001.

For more information about renewable farming, visit: farmersforclimateaction.org.au

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