Water – essential to keeping your farming business afloat

To succeed in farming you need healthy plants to grow good quality produce – simple!

Plants need four key ‘ingredients’ to grow: air, nutrients, sunlight and WATER. Limiting any of these will impact on how well crops grow and the nutritional and market value that your produce can achieve.

Here we are focusing on water; the different approaches to irrigating your plot and ideas on how to be more efficient at using what you have.

First, how do you get water to your crop?

The main ways we come across in the field are:

• waiting for the rain
• manually irrigating with buckets or treadle pumps
• fuel pumps; petrol, diesel or electric
solar water pumps!

“Tut tut it looks like rain…”

You can rely on seasonal rainfall, however, this limits you to only growing in the rainy seasons. This reduces annual yields through shorter growing seasons overall. Quality of the crop can also be negatively impacted as rainfall is often sporadic and cannot easily be regulated. This is becoming a greater challenge with climate change, rainfall patterns are getting increasingly hard to predict and often water comes in the wrong quantity – too little or in heavy downpours which can damage crops.

James - A farmer in Kenya with his solar irrigation pump

Our customer, James, told us about how last year his rain-fed crop struggled early on with drought conditions but then heavy rains came in early March which ruined many more of his plants – of his 150 papaya trees, very few now remain.

So, waiting for the rain just won’t cut it if you hope to make farming your business.

Next option, you could manually irrigate. We’ve found out from our customers just how tiring and time consuming this is! Many small-scale farmers use buckets to bring water to their crops, then they give each plant a cup full of water. This is a water efficient method and easily regulated, however, it can take over two hours per acre to irrigate like this. Every. Single. Day!

This is not sustainable for commercial farming, it is not scalable. You and your farm workers are left overburdened with little time to complete all the other tasks on the farm – sewing seeds, tending plants, harvesting and planning. This is not efficient farming.

What about a treadle pump?

A treadle pump is a step up from bucket irrigation, it is a quicker and more efficient method for bringing water to your fields, however, the labour burden is still high. Professor Bruce Lankford of the University of East Anglia estimates that this method of pumping is comparable to climbing an 1000 m mountain each day – to irrigate just half a hectare.

Types of water pump

What is wanted is an increase in reliable irrigation but a reduction in labour burden.

The ‘traditional’ next step is to look towards engine pumps as a solution. Petrol pumps are widely available at a fairly low price, they produce high water flow-rates and therefore can irrigate large areas of land easily. Easily, but not cheaply.

Petrol pumps have on-going fuel and maintenance costs which you need to be aware of. These need to be factored in to your outgoing production costs. At around $11 for fuel per week and periodic maintenance costs (lifetime of a petrol pump is around five years) this can seriously reduce profits on your farm. This can make it more of a challenge to build your small-scale farming business. (Figures from a sample of Futurepump customers – irrigated approx one acre)

We haven’t even really gone into the environmental impact of increased carbon emissions and high water extraction rates with a petrol pump! Both should definitely be considered when choosing whether to invest in an engine pump.

With all this in mind we come to the solar water pump.

As a relatively new farm technology this is often something which is overlooked when considering irrigation methods. Except, this is something we want to change. We want to move solar pumps up the ranking of irrigation solutions for small-scale farmers. Instead of opting for an engine pump as part of your farming business plan – why not consider the benefits of a solar pump?

Let’s recap; the problems we have encountered with the previous irrigation methods:

•high labour input
•inefficiencies in time spent irrigating
•input costs (fuel)
•maintenance/replacement costs

Now consider a solar water pump:

1. You can utilise reliable, clean energy whenever the sun is shining. Plants need water when there is plenty of sunshine around – so there is always energy when you need it.

2. A pump like the SF2 from Futurepump is portable and easy to move around your farm. It’s lower flow-rate (than an engine pump) makes it  autonomous, so you can leave it pumping while you tent to other jobs on your farm. This increases efficiency.

3. And, it’s okay to leave it running all day as there are no fuel costs! It’s all FREE energy. Those maintenance worries can become a thing of the past as well. We offer a 5-year parts and labour warranty. All this saves you money and increases your farms profits.

Together let’s make solar the obvious choice! It’s a solar revolution.

Sunset on a farm
It’s the end of the day, the sun goes down on a farm irrigated by solar energy

Found this interesting? Look out for our next blogs on using water efficiently on your farm!

Author: Helen Davies