Fight the power! Farmer takes energy into his own hands

ENERGY BOOST: Cane farmer Dean Cayley said "the cost of power was killing me" before he switched to lateral irrigation.
ENERGY BOOST: Cane farmer Dean Cayley said "the cost of power was killing me" before he switched to lateral irrigation. Eliza Goetze

POWER prices are pushing many cane growers to the edge.

With the battle against rising prices and the threat of tariffs striking fear into many, some irrigators are taking long term action to mitigate the impact of costly electricity.

Bundaberg cane farmer Dean Cayley has taken his energy use into his own hands.

After an energy audit from Bundaberg Sugar Services, he took advantage of finance from the government-owned Clean Energy Finance Corporation and has switched from winch irrigation to lateral irrigation.

It is a long term investment he will pay off in five years - with the CEFC facilitating a discounted interest rate with Westpac, an incentive to encourage energy efficient practices - but he says he is already reaping rewards.

"The cost of power was killing me," Mr Cayley told a crowd of growers at a tour of his property organised by Bundaberg Canegrowers.

Across 40ha of cane, the lateral has the advantage of coverage: 6ha per shift compared to a winch capability of 1.5 per shift.

The lateral system runs with a booster pump for the end gun and a generator powered by a diesel pump which typically uses 1L/h.


BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY: Bundaberg cane grower Dean Cayley checks up on his lateral irrigation system.
BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY: Bundaberg cane grower Dean Cayley checks up on his lateral irrigation system. Eliza Goetze

"It has more than halved my kilowatt usage," he said.

Kalkie canegrowers Mark and Brian Pressler said their lateral system had led to a 60% saving on electricity.

The two end towers control the system, with poles in the ground stopping them when they roll to the end of a field.

Mr Cayley expects his will not only save energy but lift productivity in the sandier soils on part of his property.

"With winch irrigation we just could not keep the water in the sand," he said.

"We're hoping to lift it from 30 to 40 tonnes to 50 tonnes per acre in the sandy part."


FEELING THE SQUEEZE: Dean Cayley has been feeling the pain of Ergon's power prices for years.
FEELING THE SQUEEZE: Dean Cayley has been feeling the pain of Ergon's power prices for years. Simon Young BUN260813WAT1

It is also less vulnerable to windy weather.

"It's working today in the wind - the whole lot is going where it should be."

And, it saves time.

With the winch, Mr Cayley said, "we physically couldn't get the water on in time".

"We used to do 21 winch runs to do this area, and we've condensed that down to six nights," he said.

"I have one guy that works full time with me, and normally at this time of year he doesn't go anywhere.

"But now we've finished our cane season, he went away for ten days, and it didn't worry me one bit.

"It's a lot easier now, irrigate the farm by myself."

Topics:  agriculture canegrowers clean energy finance corporation ergon farmers power prices rural weekly sugar cane

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