Sustainable resource management was the underlying theme at a recent SA Institute of Agricultural Engineers Symposium in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal. From biofuel and efficient management of water and energy, to choosing the perfect standby generator, those in the know told farmers how to keep their businesses running, writes Lloyd Phillips.
South African agriculture faces a major energy supply crisis. Farmers need already-stressed energy resources for necessities such as moving soil and water and processing products along the value chain. Petrus Britz, of the Agricultural Research Council’s Institute for Agricultural Engineering (ARC-IAE), says the only viable option is to find alternative energy sources and maximise their efficiency.
“Lower fuel costs are likely to be short-lived, and load-shedding is interfering with agriculture’s production ability and capacity,” Petrus says. “Farmers must ask themselves if conventional farming practices are still relevant. It’s time to change to more sustainable, energy-efficient methods.” These include saving energy on moving soil through minimum tillage, no-till and even animal traction. All these save fuel, conserve moisture and increase productivity. With minimum tillage and no-till, it’s easier for farmers to control their tractors’ most efficient operating range, saving fuel and other running costs. Animal traction requires farmers to adapt their operations, as it saves energy and minimises soil compaction and running costs. Moving water is heavy on energy and finances.
Petrus suggests properly matching pumps with the irrigation, or other, systems they supply. A pump that can run at a lower pressure while still pushing through required water volumes is a good idea. “Elsewhere, remember that evaporative cooling is far cheaper and more efficient than air-conditioning. Many efficient evaporative cooling designs are available nowadays,” he explains. “For heating facilities, evaluate the most efficient and cost-effective method for your enterprise. Options include infrared radiant heating, electricity, LP gas and biogas. In all cases remember to insulate buildings and equipment to prevent energy loss and waste.”
Links in the value chain
Petrus says urgent, in-depth research is needed into energy efficiency in every aspect of agricultural processing. Problems are already significant, but agroprocessors’ have a wide range of back-up power supply options and Petrus urges them to invest in an emergency power solution capable of running the business until main power is restored after a cut.
It’s imperative that agricultural transporters plan their logistics to reduce energy wastage, like improving and maintaining vehicle aerodynamics. Petrus also believes a revitalised, streamlined rail transport system would cut the energy required to transport bulk agricultural produce significantly. “Agriculture also has the potential to be a significant producer of renewable energy,” he adds. “That would lessen the burden on non-renewable resources such as coal. Once legislation is in place, agriculture would be able to sell energy to the national energy grid.” Contact Petrus Britz on (012) 842 4311 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw