NRCS is Driving Energy Savings to Farmers with VFDs

farmer at well

VFDs are addressing energy resource concerns through EQIP.

One of the largest operating expenses for irrigation farmers is the energy required to operate irrigation pumping systems. A new technology is reaching up to 15 percent saving on energy usage – variable frequency drives (VFDs).

VFDs are an electronic drive system used to control electric motors. Its purpose is to vary motor speed by controlling input frequency and voltage allowing pump performance and speed to be adjusted to better match operating conditions of the irrigation well.  By controlling the speed of the electric motor they can slow down the speed of the pump, reducing the pump output (gallons per minute) without using a valve, commonly known as a squeeze valve, which saves electricity. VFDs also conserve electricity by allowing for slow or “soft” starts, resulting in lower electric costs.

Through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), producers in the High Plains region have an opportunity to receive financial and technical assistance to install VFDs. Through Farm Bill programs like EQIP, NRCS works one on one with farmers to help them improve not only natural resources on their operation, but also their operation’s efficiencies.

Greg Sokora, NRCS agriculture engineer in Lubbock said, “By utilizing a VFD, farmers are able to adjust their electric-powered irrigation pumps to fluctuating well yields, allowing them to better manage their irrigation systems which will save the farmers an estimated 10 to 15 percent on their electric costs.”

VFDs cost in the range of $7,500 to $30,000 or more, depending on the horsepower. NRCS in Texas has added VFDs to their EQIP program payment schedule to help farmers with the installation costs. From 2015 until now, NRCS assisted farmers in the High Plains region to install 61 VFD systems for an estimated $800,000.

Farmers can go into any USDA Service Center and make an application for both financial and technical assistance for VFDs through the EQIP program.

VFDs is another technology advancement in farming practices to help conserve natural resources and enhance crop production.