By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The environment is becoming more and more of a concern for the prairie agriculture industry in general. However, when you pair that green desire with cost savings, power use efficiency and labour saving options, it’s only then the environment becomes a complete win for today’s producers. Case in point, solar technology is already being widely used in many farm operations to power electric fences and water pumps for cattle. Marvin Jackson, owner of Sundog Solar in Sundre, Alberta, says prairie farmers are, in fact, leading the world in agricultural applications of solar technology.
“On a world scale, western Canada probably has the most advanced agriculture solar industry,” says Jackson. “We have learned to deal with fairly extreme weather. So what we are doing would probably be unheard of in most of other parts of the world. Canada is a go-to place to look at when you design systems that need to work. Solar has become the hands-down winner on the farm for certain applications.”
However, according to Jackson, producers’ willingness to push ahead into new frontiers now extends well beyond solar into other more cutting edge applications. He cites two areas where technology and sales are surging ahead: Geo-thermal watering systems and Anti-Vortex watering systems.
“With geo-thermal, it’s actually very simple and probably should have been designed a hundred years sooner. Basically, we are conserving the heat that comes from our well or some form of unfrozen water source in the winter time. There is a switch in our tank, and with a two inch drop in our tank the pump turns on, waters the animals and fills the tank. The tank is full of water 24/7. What really makes this work is our tank is fully insulated, but it’s more than just an insulated tank. There has been drink tubes developed that allow the animal access to water but seals the top.”
By setting up a system which uses nature’s own natural heat conservation laws, Jackson says farmers watering cattle in the winter time never have to worry about a frozen trough.
“Due to temperature inversion in the water, the warm water that is added to the tank is going to go naturally go to the top. That’s why it is very important that it is sealed off. The drink tube is positioned so the coldest water at the bottom of the tank is leaving first. So by complete design we have conserved our warm water and managed to extract the cold water out of the tank without having pumps or dividers or anything like that.”
Jackson’s company has worked for years to create a geo-thermal tank which maximizes these principles and remains extremely portable for farmers.
“The tank can be installed any time of the year and positioned on frozen ground,” says Jackson. “And then we’re conserving the heat differential from the ground water into the tank. That being said, the size of the tank is important because we do need a heat sink there. Other than that, it is very simple. We have operations with 40 to up to 500 cows using this every day. I have not ever sold a tank system like this that the producer hasn’t been amazed at how well it works.”
An Anti-Vortex watering system combines solar technology, natural gravity and infrastructure built below frost level to keep water flowing to cattle all winter long.
“We are burying a 24 inch culvert beside the dugout and we are storing the water below frost,” explains Jackson. “A solar pump brings it up when the animals are there and gravity puts it back. So we have the solar pump at this wet well. We have a motionized trigger when the animal comes to it. Water is then pumped up to the water bowl. They drink. It normally runs for 45 seconds because there is usually more than one animal. After there are no more animals there the sensor shuts the pump off and the remaining water drains back through the pump and is taken back down and stored below frost.”
Jackson says western Canada is held in great esteem at every conference he goes to dealing with solar and green technology use in agriculture for the region’s practical sensibility, its use of cutting-edge applications and its willingness to adopt any tech. which makes sense for their farm operations.
“Canadian agriculture is not subsidized by the government,” states Jackson. “There is no supply marketing. So really it is left up to us if we want to survive and compete with other countries. We’ve got to find a way to make our products get to market cheaper; or better, shinier or something. We have to deal with this (green) technology and figure it out because there is no other go-to place in the world which can do that for us. We’re it.”