Innovation and adaptation are essential if farmers want to survive in the unpredictable and rapidly changing world of agribusiness.
Every year, farmers need to deal with drought, floods, cyclones or just the general uncertainty of Australia’s climate.
In recent years, they have also faced escalating costs, particularly for their power. And at the same time, prices and profits are being driven down by retailers and supermarkets.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown in a whole range of new challenges around shifting demand and supply, dealing with logistics difficulties and workforce constraints.
Amid all this unpredictability, solar offers a guaranteed way for farmers to reduce their operating costs, improve their cash flow and boost their bottom line. And it comes with the added benefits of being easy to install with no upfront costs and being great for a brand’s sustainability credentials.
Farmers can spend a lot of money on power each month. Some will spend $20,000 per month on the main shed and another $2,000-3,000 per month to pump water at various locations on their property whether they’re in Brisbane or Bowen.
For large intensive feedlot operations, nurseries or irrigated crops, the monthly energy bill can be even higher.
Most agricultural businesses have load demands that suit daytime generation from solar. Along with their high energy costs and generally large amounts of available land, this means that agribusinesses are perfectly positioned to harvest the benefits of solar.
Solar is a great way of turning vacant or unused land into an asset that not only generates revenue but can significantly reduce operating costs.
For systems that are pumping water in the fields or onto trees, a ground-mounted solar system can generate more money than the value of the crops. So, for around one acre or the size of a small backyard, commercial solar systems can eliminate 100% of their energy costs
Even greater efficiencies can be achieved by installing a timer and drive system that pumps water during the day, and pumps more when the sun is shining while slowing down when clouds come over.
The great thing about ground solar installations is they are easy to install, inspect and maintain. But farm businesses can also take advantage of shed rooftops to further boost their solar power output.
Solar is a great option for a wide variety of agriculture operations, whether they are in the business of growing crops, citrus, nuts, livestock and dairy, organic produce or poultry and eggs.
The most common solar cell technology used in agribusiness is flat-panel solar PV systems. These are made up of:
• solar panels (which can be ground, or roof-mounted)
• an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) electricity that is generated by the panels into the more useable alternating current or AC power, and
• batteries to store the power generated until it is needed.
A wide variety of panels and inverters are available that range in size, price, and quality.
There are even more reasons for farm businesses to go solar:
• solar energy can not only help significantly reduce or eliminate energy costs today, but in years to come
• solar power is a great insurance policy, protecting against the impact of future energy price hikes
• solar improves the sustainability credentials of a business and makes their products more attractive to consumers and retailers
• a range of innovative grants, loans and other financing mechanisms are available that mean any agribusiness can go solar for zero net cost and start returning a positive cash flow from day one
• the ATO allows a 5% depreciation rate on solar panels and batteries and inverters can be depreciated at an even higher rate.
With this package of benefits and virtually no downside, there has never been a better time for agribusinesses to give their bottom line and profits a sunlight-powered boost.