Marvin Jackson, owner of Sundog Solar, explains the type of solar panels available to pump water on farms. The panels come in different shapes but need to be sturdy enough for agriculture purposes. He demonstrated these at a water management workshop at Standard, Alta. | Barbara Duckworth photo
STANDARD, Alta. — Producers should not skimp when taking on water development projects because the return on investment will be greater in the long run if they carry it out properly, experts say.
A water management plan for wet years and dry years is needed when installing a system and no one should wait until the well has failed.
“You plan your crops, your rotation, you plan your tractor purchase. Could we not look at water?” said Marvin Jackson of Sundog Solar, who owns the solar and wind pump manufacturing company based at Sundre, Alta. He has been in business for 17 years.
To start a project, a producer needs to draw a map of the grazing area and water sources that in-cludes natural waterways, dugouts, wells or ponds.
Decide where the water should be for the cattle and what pumping elevations are needed. Elevation or lift is the vertical difference from the water source to the top of the water tank.
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A solar and/or wind system is a tool to deliver water.
Delivering water to a trough can earn producers more money in livestock productivity. Better water quality increases cattle rate of gain and improves health because the animals are not walking into the stream and contaminating it with manure or mud.
An average cow eats about 12 kilograms of forage per day and needs 40 to 60 litres of water.
“If you don’t want to drink it, the cow probably doesn’t want to drink it. The more water we can put in that cow, the more she is going to want to eat grass,” Jackson said at a water development workshop at Standard, Alta.
“Water is your cheapest source of gain,” he said.
The capacity of a trough or tank is not as important as previously thought, he added. Technology allows modern pumps to supply water at a high gallon per minute rate so it is running when necessary.
Portable systems can be moved with the cattle as they graze.
This is an evolving system with new designs and can be used in winter or summer. The system may be a hybrid solar and wind system that is reliable year-round.
“We now have surface water pumps and we have bore well pumps that are magnetic drive, run on battery or solar direct that can be plugged into this system either way,” Jackson said.
The solar pumps can lift the water to a storage tank and later deliver it it to troughs placed wherever the producer wants.
The deepest his company has pumped water with a solar pump is 430 feet and transferred it 1,800 feet. This was capable of watering 200 cow-calf pairs.
Any decision to install a solar system requires research so the buyer gets the best value and a long lasting, reliable product.
“Remember that solar is now a commodity. It is like oil, gold, silver,” Jackson said.
Big investors are entering the sector and they expect a return on investment. Jackson said numerous kinds of panels are available but sturdy systems are needed for agricultural use. Solar systems also require maintenance.
If the panel is covered with dust, bird droppings, snow or leaves the power output is reduced. The panels can be cleaned the same way as a window.
The tilt of the panel needs to be adjusted because the sun angle changes with the time of the day and the season. Power output could be lowered if the panels cannot capture that energy.
“The angle of the solar panel for that day is important,” he said.
Good panels can handle hailstorms of a one inch stone at 120 miles per hour. Good quality panels should last at least 25 years.
Salinity is measured as the concentration of dissolved salts of various kinds. Other factors include nitrate content, alkalinity or high levels of toxic elements.
If the water has a high salt content, animals may refuse to drink for many days. This is followed by a period where they drink a large amount at one time and become suddenly sick and die.
Animals seem to be able to adapt to saline water but an abrupt change from low to high levels may cause problems.