Solar panels offer ‘serious savings’
Edgecumbe farmers Robyn and Peter Askey decided to put solar panels on the roof of their dairy shed after seeing them at local field days. That was four years ago, and they say it will take seven to eight years to pay the system back by reducing their draw on the national grid.
However, then they will be saving serious money. The solar panels on their dairy shed have a maximum capacity of 10kW on bright, sunny days in high summer with the system generating 60-70 kilowatt hours each day during this peak time.
In total they use around 54,000 kilowatt hours per year of power at the shed, sourced from the solar-panel system and grid supply.
The solar panels produce around 15,000 kilowatt hours per year with around 80 per cent of that used at the shed, and the remainder sold back to the grid.
The system is used to run the milk chiller, hotwater heaters and effluent pumps. Robyn says they have arranged things on their farm to get maximum bang for buck.
For example, the effluent pumps switch on at lunchtime to draw solar-generated power when the vat chiller no longer needs to run.
The couple, who farm a 92-hectare (effective) unit about two kilometres from Edgecumbe, were not caught up in the flooding of the area in April this year.
Not to say their farm isn’t flood prone though. In 2004 the property was flooded and was under water for a few days after the Rangitaiki River burst its banks.
Their herringbone shed had been demolished and a new 24-a-side version, with cup removers, was due to be commissioned the next day.
The memory of this difficult time led the couple to safeguard their farm with a series of leased grazing blocks out of flood range.
The recent purchase of 22ha across the road, which has been added to the dairy platform, does not flood and this April they were able to graze the milking cows here when part of the main dairy platform was under water.
The Rangitaiki had burst its banks on the western side this time, so their farm (on the eastern side) was not too badly affected.
They also have two bark, stand-off pads on the farm. The bark is composted with other race and silage-pad cleanings. then spread on the paddocks.
The Askeys milk 275 friesian cows through a shed with a John Brooks milk-pump controller to aid milk cooling and lessen fat damage and a Corkill Systems vacuum pump-controller to save power and control vacuum.
Their effluent system is a sand trap draining to a 45,000-litre concrete tank built in the ground.
They installed an ISD effluent screw-press and the liquid flows to a 45,000-litre concrete tank built on site.
This is irrigated daily through four pods on a line that is shifted each day giving about 15 units N. The solids effluent can be spread by their own effluent spreader.
Any effluent not able to be irrigated because of soil or weather is stored in a 1000-cubic-metre pond lined with a geosynthetic clay liner.
They rear most calves and sell bulls at 100 kilograms. They DNA-test late heifer-calves and sell them as recorded weaners, keeping about 10-20 to sell as in-calf heifers, which, Robyn says, gives good cashflow.
She says that doing a Dairy Production Systems cow nutrition course has been of great benefit: “It gave me so much inspiration and understanding about cow feeding and health.”
They have 8ha of lease land in three blocks to grow maize, and winter cows on another 4ha lease block (also adjoining) in the Te Teko area.
They grow 8ha of grass silage where they previously had to buy in silage, and say this gives them more control over their system and costs.
Maize is used in autumn, and mixed with grass silage for transition cows and used for milkers in the spring to October.
They also use palm kernel – 2 kilograms per cow last year – and as needed.
The farm’s best production has been 100,000 kilograms of milksolids, but the last two seasons have not been so good because rain has affected grass growth.
The original farm has been in the family since 1948 when Robyn’s late dad, Laurie, bought 40ha as a soldier settlement farm.
Robyn and husband Peter, who is an environmental engineer with Opus, took over in 1997.
Robyn has a Bachelor of Agriculture Science degree from Massey and worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a dairy advisor.
She has been the off-farm chair of Federated Farmers’ Whakatane branch four years and volunteers with the local Riding for the Disabled.
She says Federated Farmers was advocating for widening of the floodway and a controlled spillway well before the recent flooding.
She says that although the floodway part of the project has been partially completed, Federated Farmers will continue to advocate for the spillway.