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Idaho farmer turns to solar power to cut input costs

By: Jake Putnam
Published in Blog on  January 02, 2019

Bruneau—The clean, endless blue skies, the sunshine, and arid beauty are what drew farmer Russ Schiermier to his 3-thousand acre farm in remote Owyhee County.

The farm rests just a mile south from the Snake River and boasts more than 230 days of sunshine per year, and just10 inches of rain a year. To make his growing operation viable Schiermier needed a way to cut his irrigation bill.

“It’s probably 30 percent of my operating costs every year and it’s also one of the biggest things we can be more efficient about. I’ve in the past put a lot of money into GPS, variable weight fertilizer, variable weight planting when I got this giant bear of a power bill every month. I knew to get an edge I had to address the power bill and the high cost of irrigation,” said Schiermier.

Schiermier and partners raise corn, wheat, and alfalfa in the perfectly dry climate and rich soil.

But they use a lot of water and must pump it, and he says that means a huge electric bill every month, operating costs that have scared many farmers away.

Nine years ago Schiermier started looking for ways cut costs, just to stay in business. The answer was obvious. The sun is the most dominant force of nature and the answer to the input cost riddle. The first solar panels started popping up on the farm.

“The power bill each month is set in stone,” explains Schiermier. “Solar panels are a way to insulate it because you can offset your power costs as the panels are producing. As the panels are paid off you have a net bottom line if you can live with that now, its something you can easily live within the future,”

Schiermier says that solar power has got to the point of greater efficiencies in the panels, tracking systems and inverters. He adds that over the past two years it's economically feasible to use these new panels as economically viable tools in his irrigation system. He has two more solar projects going online and more planned.

“On this farm which is pressurization and lift farm, I'll be saving about $75-80 dollars an acre, that’s over 3-thousand acres so its a significant saving of input costs,” said Schiermier.

For farmers still not confident of affordable solar power, Scheirmiers says all one has to do is pencil it out. Using tax incentives, depreciation and grants the Owyhee farmer says he will pay off the solar panels in 5 years.

“Any Ag operation that pumps water has the same opportunity with solar power, with the jump in technology and the savings are real. Irrigation is the lion share of costs that I put out every year that I cannot get around. Solar is a way to cut into that bill, with solar I can weather the storm of uncertainty and the ups and downs of Ag,” said Schiermier.

With 2019 looming as another difficult year, Schiemier and others hope that solar will give them the edge they need as input costs continue to rise.

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