SALEM – Agriculture officials say a new round of grants will help Oregon farmers and ranchers get the most out of the energy they use for irrigating.

Nearly $1 million in federal funds is being awarded in irrigation efficiency block grants to five conservation and irrigation districts representing growers east of the Cascades.

“Many of our growers are already using highly efficient systems, and many more are interested in making efficiency improvements,” said Stephanie Page, renewable energy specialist and project manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “This program offers a great way for irrigators to get cost-share for irrigation efficiency improvements that benefit the grower, the utility, and the environment.”

In Oregon, rainfall is relatively scarce during much of the growing season throughout the state, making irrigation a necessity. Irrigation is used on about half of Oregon’s total crop land –  about 1.7 million acres. However, that irrigated land produces 77 percent of the value of all the state’s harvested crops.

The focus of the block grant program is to save energy, but there are additional benefits.

“There will definitely be water savings from some of these projects,” said Page. “There could even be fertilizer savings because growers will be able to manage water more efficiently.”

The grants use state Energy Program funds awarded to the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds (ARRA) and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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“We’re excited about our partnership with ODA,” said Paul Egbert, acting manager of ODOE’s ARRA team. “This is a unique opportunity to impact energy and water savings, and to help Oregon growers operate more efficiently.” 

Some of the projects focus on scientific irrigation schedule and variable speed drives.

“Scientific irrigation scheduling looks at a variety of factors – such as the crops being grown, the soil type, what kind of irrigation water application system the grower has – and a plan is developed that determines the appropriate amount of water for the crop during the season,” says Page. “It also involves installing soil moisture monitoring equipment and using weather information to help make decisions about when to irrigate. Variable speed drives allow the grower to use just the amount of energy they need to pump the water. Without one, a pump motor operates at full speed all the time, even if it isn’t necessary.”

The grant recipients are:

•  Wy’East Resource Conservation & Development Council, for a scientific irrigation scheduling project in the Madras area.

•  Wasco County Soil & Water Conservation District, for irrigation pump upgrades and variable speed drives as well as scientific irrigation scheduling in the Fifteenmile Watershed.

•  Columbia/Blue Mountain Resource Conservation & Development Council, to support energy audits and efficiency improvements such as irrigation pump upgrades and variable speed drives. The project area includes Gilliam, Wheeler, Moro, Grant, and Umatilla counties, with the potential for additional areas.

•  Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, to pay for pump upgrades and variable speed drives for irrigators in the Klamath Basin.

•  Three Sisters Irrigation District, to upgrade an irrigation pump.

Growers located within the five funded projects are encouraged to contact the grant recipients for more specifics about how they can participate. Irrigators not covered by these projects can contact ODA or ODOE to learn about other energy efficiency projects and grants outside the State Energy Program funds. 

“We hope these types of programs encourage irrigators to buy more energy efficient equipment so they can save money on their own operations,” said Page.


Oregon Department of Agriculture


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