Solar panels on farm

The number of farming operations with solar panels increased by 148 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

One of the hundred or so books that I retained from the pickup load of volumes that I donated to the Phoenix Library upon my leaving that desert metropolis is “The Last Sorcerer.” Some of you may recognize the title as Michael White’s concise, 361-page, biography of Isaac Newton.

Renowned as a great man of science, Newton was a complex man. He was also an alchemist — you know, gold from lead — and a practitioner of the occult. Newton did do the gravity thing, although not entirely on his own.

The point is Newton spent his life looking for answers by one means or another. White said, Newton stood at a point in time when the magic ended, and science began. I am not sure that all the magic stuff is gone.

The search conducted by Newton and many others for cheap gold is analogous to another sector of self-perpetuating searches, the search for the perpetual motion machine or sources of energy that never run out. I think about that discipline whenever I think about the fusion research crowd or even the solar energy and wind power folks. Then it occurred to me the other day that the renewables crowd may be onto something.

Perpetual motion may or may not be a fool’s errand, but its manifestations, so far, have been presented mostly in classified magazine ads, midnight-to-dawn TV, and Facebook revelations. “The power companies don’t want you to know about this machine,” and so goes the rhetoric.

But we may have finally come about as close to a perpetual motion machine as we are ever going to get, and it could happen on a farm. Build a solar farm, buy an e-tractor, and never burn fossil fuel to run the machine or make electricity.

Electric, GPS guided tractors are coming. We already have solar panels and wind generators. If you run an e-tractor and recharge it on a solar or wind system, you are almost there. You miscreants out there will say, but, but, it took fossil fuels to mine the rare earth and other raw materials for the solar panels and tractor batteries and to build those tractors and panels. But, once up and running, the system can theoretically, do its own thing, including drive the tractor, thanks to the R&D by John Deere, who owns the incredible GPS guidance system that is already operating on several farms here in the Valley.

Now, before you all run out to U.S. Tractor, looking for an e-machine, they are not there yet, but they will be one of these days. The dear folks at Deere say that they believe in electric farm machinery. They are working on it and have some behind the scenes working models. It is hard to imagine a R8 series electric, but I suppose it could happen. If any company can do it, they can.

Another fellow named Stephen Hackworth launched Solectrac Inc., a company geared towards providing 100-percent-battery-powered electric tractors. Five years later, his two models, the Compact Electric Tractor, and the Utility, became what he says were the first commercially available electric tractors in the US. Both models are like Bobcat size.

Anyway, on with the show. And here is why some of you may have read a little sarcasm into this essay.

We are still years away from even the most rudimentary commercial farming electric tractor, JD says so. And, when we do get there, it will be expensive. Current E-tractors, like the ones Solectrac makes, are two to three times as expensive as fuel machines. JD has a practice e-tractor called the Joker. And the battery makes most of the weight. It is, actually, quite functional, but it is not going to pull a 30-foot disc implement.

They do not talk about its retail price yet. They have a concept tractor, as well, called the GridCon Kabeltractor – right, you plug it into the grid. That is because no one has come up with a way to put a megawatt of battery power on the tractor.

So, let us say that somebody does build a E-tractor that a production farm can use without dragging a cable. You either must plug it into the grid, which kind of defeats the purpose, or you plug it into your own solar or wind array to avoid buying power that is generated by – gasp—fossil fuels.

A solar famer to support a 1-megawatt demand, which would be needed for your battery pack, would take about six to eight acres of land. So, you take that out of production, lose $10K, or more, in income, and build your solar farm which will cost you, according to the solar energy gurus, anywhere from 80 cents to $1.25 per kilowatt.

So now you have $100,000 or so tied up in that outlet into which you plug your tractor. We are told that we can sell our excess power to the local grid, and our local co-op does buy power. A one-megawatt solar array could gross about $40K a year for the farmer, depending upon the market. You will have upkeep and repair on the system and now you own two farms, one grows kilowatts and the other your crops. That means that your great grandkids might be there when the investment is returned.

PPP Loans Decoded

No, I am not going to do a dissertation on the Small Business Administration’s mess resulting from Paycheck Protection Program. I read a piece on the AGWeb Monday that was painful to read. I am not going to try and parse it; I will tell you that it is by Paul Neiffer.

Neiffer, God bless him, understands the PPP maze. When it comes to farmers who have acquired PPP loans, there is a minefield between the farmer and the end of the application as well as in the calculation of cost and other little details.

If you are a PPP loan applicant, have a PPP loan, or need to calculate your costs for tax purposes, take a few minutes to look at Mr. Neiffer’s notes. Good and Bad News on Farm PPP Loans (agweb.com).

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