When deciding which water pump to use to irrigate your farm, there are some advantages and disadvantages of solar water pumps we thought would be helpful for you to know.
As you’ll know from past decisions, all new tools and technologies for your farm have pros and cons. Solar pumps are no different. Using the information below to guide your decision will make sure you get the right water pump for your needs.
Solar Water Pump Advantage – Zero Fuel Costs
Solar water pumps are powered by solar panels. Once you have the panel, all the energy you need comes from the sun and is completely free!
This is a major advantage over fossil fuel pumps which require you to constantly buy fuel. Fuel can add a significant cost to your farm irrigation.
Using free solar energy is also an advantage over manual irrigation which takes up a lot of your valuable energy and time (more on this later!).
Solar Water Pump Disadvantage – Can’t Pump Water When It Is Dark
We were just talking about how great solar panels are (and they really are great!), but they do need sunlight to work. If you are wanting to irrigate in the early morning or late evening, you may find there is not enough sunlight for your solar water pump to work.
However, with a bit of planning you can reduce this disadvantage.
One of the best things to do is get a water tank. During the sunniest parts of the day, use your solar pump to pump water to your tank. You will then have water available via gravity feed whenever you need to irrigate your crops.
You could also use a battery with your pump when the sun is not out, but we don’t recommend this as batteries can be expensive and have very short lifetimes.
Solar Water Pump Advantage – Less Labour & Maintenance
Solar water pumps can really reduce the amount of labour and time that is needed to irrigate your crops. Just connect it to your chosen irrigation method, turn on your solar pump and it does all the work for you.
Solar pumps also require less labour and maintenance compared to fossil fuel pumps. First, you won’t run out of fuel and need to travel to the petrol station when your crops are desperate for water. Second, solar pumps, especially with good warranty periods, won’t let you down, whereas fossil fuel pumps require a lot of servicing and regular maintenance.
This ease of maintenance applies especially to surface solar pumps (ones that are not submerged in water). Because they don’t need to be kept watertight they are repairable. In fact, most maintenance can be done with basic tools on your farm.
Just remember to keep your solar panels clean to keep it producing as much energy as possible!
Solar Water Pump Disadvantage – High upfront costs
The upfront cost of solar water pumps can be a barrier to some farmers, as you need to buy the water pump and panels all at once.
However, in the long-term, solar pumps are the cheaper option for irrigation. This is because of the advantages already discussed – no ongoing fuel costs, long pump lifetimes and low labour and maintenance costs.
It’s a good idea to consider how long you will want your water pump to last and calculate the cost of fuel and maintenance over this time. You will be surprised to see how quickly what you spend on fuel adds up and, therefore, the savings you will make!
On top of that, it is very promising that the cost of solar is continuing to fall, whereas the price of petrol is on the rise. This means that this disadvantage is getting smaller and smaller!
Solar Water Pump Advantage – Environmentally Friendly
Solar water pumps are sustainable and use renewable energy. They do not produce harmful pollutants which keeps the air and soil on your farm clean.
Compare this to fossil fuel pumps, they create a lot of pollution both with fumes into the air and spills of fuel into your soil.
This one is very important to us. Rainfall is becoming more unpredictable and, as the climate changes, agriculture will become more difficult across the tropics. The agricultural sector needs to find new, sustainable practices to help tackle the problem and ways to cope with the changes. Solar irrigation is a fantastic option that is available now.
At Futurepump, we are experts in the manufacturing of solar water pumps.
We have worked hard to make the most of these advantages for farmers choosing our solar water pumps.
Our most popular solar water pumps – SF2 (right) for two acres and SE1 (left) for one acre
All our solar water pumps come with a tool kit and a full 10-year warranty. This means ten whole years of worry-free irrigation, with no fuel costs, low-labour input and easy maintenance!
We sell our solar pumps through trusted distributors in over 15 countries (and counting), and there are finance options available in some locations. Find your nearest distributor for more details.
When the weather starts getting warmer, this is when your plants can thrive. Depending on where you are in the world, this may mean going into spring and summer, or transitioning from rainy seasons into dry seasons.
But it should all mean the same things for your plants. There is more sunshine, more pollinators and the potential for the best growing conditions.
One really important thing to get right during these warmer, drier times is making sure your plants are getting the right amount of water.
If you don’t know already this practice is known as irrigation, getting water to your plants in a controlled and measured way. And if you get it right you’ll have happier and healthier plants that produce more flowers and food.
Now this can be easier said than done at times. In a recent customer poll, an overwhelming 94% (80 people) said changes to rain patterns have impacted and changed the way they have to farm.
With these increasing uncertainties in the rains and how long dry weather will stick around, it is more important than ever to be prepared and have access to affordable, efficient and sustainable irrigation. This will better prepare you to manage these uncertainties and if you choose sustainable methods, such as solar, you’ll be reducing the environmental impacts too.
So, whether you’re setting up irrigation for your farm, market garden, allotment or even backyard, get a plan in place and consider some of the following dry season irrigation tips to set yourself up for success.
Where are you getting your water from during dry weather?
You’ll need to make sure you have access to enough water to meet your plants’ needs throughout the drier weather. In drier times or regions, over-abstraction of water sources can and does cause widespread issues. So, it is important to consider how you will get, store, and use water efficiently.
Water storage and conservation can be a real help for this.
Plan ahead and collect rainwater in water butts or storage tanks during rainier periods. This way you’ll know how much water you have and be ready to use it.
Also, if you are using a water source on or near your land, make sure that you monitor the water levels and have the correct permission to access it (according to your local planning rules).
There are many helpful ways to conserve water as you use it too. Pick the most efficient irrigation method that suits you and your plants (more on this below).
You can also use water conservation methods. Such as mulching to protect both your water and soils and try irrigating early or late in the day. Both of these actions will help to reduce the amount of water lost from your farm due to evaporation.
Your plant choice matters too
When planning what plants to grow, you should also consider if you should be growing ones that require less water or have drought resistant variants.
This may not be an issue if you know you’ll have access to enough water throughout the drier weather. However, if it is looking increasingly likely that these dry periods could go on for longer or even turn into drought in your region, then this may be something to keep in mind.
Which type of dry season irrigation is best for you?
As mentioned above, it is best to choose the dry season irrigation method that is most efficient that suits your needs. There are a few options and what is right for you is going to depend on a few things.
Advantages Relatively cheap Easy to set up and use Not labour intensive Can cover a large area
Disadvantages Not the most efficient Need to buy sprinklers
Advantages Very efficient Direct, gentle irrigation Not labour intensive Can cover a large area
Disadvantages Expensive start-up costs More difficult set up
Advantages Efficient Not labour intensive Can cover a large area
Disadvantages Expensive start-up costs More difficult to set up
Advantages Cheapest option Easy access
Disadvantages Labour intensive Time consuming Not suitable for large areas Less efficient
Advantages Not expensive Easy access Can cover a large area
Disadvantages Less efficient
You’ll need to consider the size of your plot. Can you set something up like drip irrigation of all your plants and leave it? Or do you need something more mobile that you can rotate around different plots and plants such as sprinklers?
Your budget will play a big part too. Drip irrigation pipes will cost a lot more than sprinklers. And the cheapest option will be manually moving water around your plants with a hose or cans. This can work well for small plots but it is tiresome and give you less control over the amount of water you use.
If you want to delve deeper, we’ve got a lot of resources that could help you! From explaining the basics of solar irrigation to an in-depth comparison of popular irrigation methods.
Solar Powered Irrigation
How you get your water to your plants for irrigation is also key. For rural, remote, and off-grid areas, portable water pumps are the best way to efficiently and easily move water around.
This is because the water pump can do all the hard work of abstracting, lifting, and moving water over large areas. Plus, they will work with most irrigation methods.
There are many different types of water pumps available but not all water pumps are built the same.
You may be familiar with petrol or diesel water pumps. Whilst these have been “the norm” for some time, they are unreliable, short-lived and expensive to run as well as contributing to climate change.
We are changing how people do dry season irrigation for the better. At Future pump, we make surface water pumps that are simple to use and maintain.
Our range is suitable for irrigating up to two acres and lifting water from water sources up to 7m (22ft) deep. They are powered by solar panels – making the most of the abundant sunshine, especially during dry, warm seasons when irrigation is needed most.
Also, we believe it is important that agricultural products last a long a long time and be easy to maintain. So we have designed and built our current range of water pumps with an industry leading 10-year warranty promise.
We even challenged other water pump manufacturers to match our warranty promise but we are still waiting for anyone to do this.
A great number of people are turning towards solar farm. This is due to its numerous advantages. Powering irrigation pumps with solar energy comes with many advantages:
Lower spending on energy
Reduced carbon emissions
Low maintenance costs
The extent to which these benefits can be realised depends on how you set up, use and look after your system.
The great thing is that there are some very simple ways to dramatically increase your solar efficiency… and we’ll run through them below.
1. Pick the right size solar panel keeping in mind the area of your solar farm
Deciding on the right size of solar panel for your system can feel like a minefield. With pumps on the market having solar panels ranging from 10W for tiny pot plant systems to several hundred watts powering large pumps for full farm systems. Even once you’ve decided on your pump your supplier may have a range of solar panel sizes with each product…
At Futurepump we typically offer three solar panel variants with our pumps, these being a small panel (60W for the SE1, 120W for the SF2), a double solar option (120W for SE1, 240W for SF2) and ‘no solar’ – a pump only unit for you to connect your own third-party solar array.
The Futurepump SF2 with it’s solar panel options
We have selected these variants so you can choose the best option for your situation in terms of expense and volume of water pumped. If you live in a location where there is a high amount of solar energy available, such as near the equator, our smallest solar panel option will be more than enough to power your pump
Oversizing your panel (choosing a higher wattage of panel) is for situations where the sun is hazier or you want to pump on cloudier days. This is because the bigger panel area allows more of the sun’s energy to be collected and turned into electricity.
In the most sunny regions, it does not make financial sense to oversize your panel. This is because there is an upper maximum set by the pump motor and you will be making enough energy with the smallest option. The increase in water you are pumping is not enough to offset the increased investment.
2. Position your solar panels correctly in your solar farm
Positioning of your solar panels is the most important thing when setting up a solar pump on your farm. You must choose a spot where there is zero shading from trees, grasses, shrubs or crops and it must be pointed at the sun.
Even the smallest amount of shading on your panel can affect the amount of energy it can generate. Depending on the exact circumstances, even if only 1% of a panel is shaded, it is possible to lose 50-80% of the power.
Study your chosen location for a whole day as the sun moves around and make sure that shade does not get cast over it as this will limit your daily pumping capacity. It is especially pertinent in dry areas.
Solar panel angle
First things first, make sure that your panel is facing the sun when you are using it.
If you will be with your panel throughout the day and it is not fixed in position, you will be able to adjust it to make sure that it is receiving the most sunlight possible. As the sun rises, gradually move the panel to be more horizontal, and as it sinks towards the horizon position it more vertically.
If you have a fixed solar panel then you will want to choose where you fix it carefully. Consider the time of day that you will be wanting to use the energy the most and position it to receive the most sunlight then. With a fixed array you will not be able to easily adjust it through the day, so you may find that your pumping day is reduced.
3. Use your solar energy efficiently
Solar panels produce the most energy during the sunniest periods – at and around midday and more on days with clear skies rather than clouds. These are the times when you can get smart and make the most use of the energy.
Even if you don’t want to irrigate in the full intensity of the midday sun, you can make use of the energy to move water to more convenient sites on your farm. This could be to a water pan for storage or a raised tank which will allow you to irrigate with gravity when the sun is not shining.
Futurepump solar pumps also come with a handy USB charger for powering small appliances such as mobile phones or torches. Charge these up when you have excess solar energy.
4. Keep your panels working at maximum efficiency
In general, solar panels have long lifetimes (with many having up to 25 year warranties) and require little maintenance. However, there are some things you can do to make sure they are working at their best.
Keep them clean
A layer of dirt and grime acts as a thin shade over the whole panel surface. Regularly cleaning your panels with water can increase the energy you get from them by around 3%. It might not sound much, but why waste free energy!
Make sure you don’t use abrasive cloths or cleaning products as these can damage the glass surface of the panel, a soft cloth and water will do.
Check they are not shaded
This relates to what we have said above about setting up your panels, but regarding maintenance. If you have a static array of panels make sure that trees and foliage have not grown up to shade the panels. Keep plant growth near the panels chopped back and you won’t have a problem.
Move them carefully
If you have portable solar panels then take care when moving them around your farm. The front of the panel is glass and can be broken by hitting or standing on the panel.
And that’s it. As solar panels do not have moving parts there is very little wear and tear that can happen within the product itself. Panel maintenance is more about external factors on your farm.
Our most popular solar water pumps – SF2 (left) for two acres and SE1 (right) for one acre
At Futurepump we are experts in the manufacture of long-lasting solar irrigation pumps. We want to help smallholder farmers across the world get access to efficient and reliable technologies to grow crops sustainably all year round.
It is almost impossible to define a ‘small farm’ in a way that includes everyone who should be in that group. In fact, it is almost easier to define them as what they are not. A small farm is NOT an industrialised, large-scale, monocropped farm.
The most widely used definition of a small farm is a farm that is less than 2 hectares (4.9 acres) in size.
The Landworkers Alliance (UK) suggests that it is more helpful to look at the values behind successful and sustainable farms than sheer land size. This is because the impacts of an individual farm can be a bit independent of the amount of cultivated land. It can differ dramatically depending on factors such as: climate, economics, crops grown, machinery used animals raised…
The following values are those which could be used to define ‘small-scale’ farming:
Ecology – increased biodiversity
Autonomy – farmers able to make decisions for their land – a great example being ‘Farmer Led Irrigation’
Cooperation – networks of farmers working together to share knowledge and resources
Community – farms can form a part of local culture and provide local jobs
Livelihoods – fair prices for good quality food
Accountability – pride in quality, healthy food which plays a part in public confidence in farming
At Futurepump we have seen the diversity across small-scale farms as our work has taken us to many growers around the world. No two farms are the same in size, set-up, or even end goals. From a 3x3m allotment to a few acres, they all count – and that’s the brilliant thing about small-scale farming, with a bit of land you can make it what you want.
Did you know? – There are approximately 570 million small farms in the world (each less than 2 hectares in size). These farms produce around 80% of the world’s food.
What is a word for a small farm?
Whilst working in the small-scale farming sector we’ve come across many different names for a small farm. They do have slightly different definitions, but these are just a few of the names commonly used:
What is the minimum size for a farm?
Realistically, anyone can be a farmer, whatever size of land they have. However, if your farm is to be commercial and not just for subsistence, you will typically need over 1 acre (0.4 hectares).
How to start a small farm
Perhaps you already have a plot or maybe you are looking into purchasing or renting a piece of land to farm. There are a few things you need to know before you start your farm.
From starting out with a budget, to assessing your specific farm environment (soil, water source etc), to deciding whether you want to farm for pleasure (growing what you like to eat) or as a business. We discuss making a profit from a small farm in the next section.
Advice from our customers
Don’t go ‘too hard’ too soon! It can be very tempting to plant every seed you can think of, but I’d advise starting small and gradually adding to your farm. Otherwise at peak growing season you may suddenly be overwhelmed.
Make a plan and keep detailed notes
Join a community of farmers to share knowledge – this could simply be online. There are loads of Instagram and TikTok account sharing advice nowadays
Ask for help at busy times, just because you’ve decided to create a farm doesn’t mean you have to go it alone
Make sure you have a good supply of water
To make a success of a small farm, it is all in the preparation. The more you can learn from other farmers, courses or helping out on other people’s farms, the better.
A Futurepump farmer – Geoff at Brimwood farm has put together this great blog on “How to start a farm with no money” – we recommend checking it out for more advice.
Can you make a profit from a small farm?
It is certainly possible to make a profit from a small farm, but was with all business ideas, it is not guaranteed.
If your main goal is profit then you must remember that you are setting up a business, not just getting out on the farm and growing. There are several things that any business requires to become a success. A farm business simply has some specific farming responsibilities included.
Start with a plan
First things first, before you get your hands dirty, it is important to have a plan and a goal with timescales. What do you want to achieve in year 1, year 2, year 3 and when can you realistically expect to make a profit? You should also complete a risk assessment and have a contingency plan for if seeds don’t germinate or drought hits for example.
This farm specific business plan should include an assessment of your specific working environment – what is the size of land you want to grow on, what soil type do you have, do you have a reliable water source?
Then you need to look at your local market and identify what there is demand for. The reality is that you are not going to be able to sell all your produce if everyone is harvesting the same things at the same time – certainly not at the best price.
It is important to keep records of what you plan, what you have tried, what has worked well and what needs to change. You can also keep track of spending and profits which helps you adapt and improve going forward.
If you want more detail on these points specifically, our blog ‘7 steps to turning your farm into a business’ is a great place to start
What are the most profitable small farms?
Find your niche
If you’re simply out for a profit then it is usually best to focus on one niche that has a demand in your local market. That could be something that lots of people need, or something that is a challenge to grow.
For example, market research shows that one of the most profitable small farms is growing tree seedlings to be sold on to other farms. This is because it can be difficult to start seedlings and if you can get it right, people will pay.
However, it is important to remember that what this niche is will depend on your specific location – the market needs variety – we cannot all be tree seedling growers and make a profit.
To increase the robustness and sustainability on your farm, your land also needs some variety. So it’s important to note that when we refer to focusing on a niche, we do not mean only grow that crop.
Focusing on one crop doesn’t mean forgetting the others
The niche crop is your main focus for making a name for yourself, and the bulk of your income, but you do not want to become a mono-crop farmer as this is not sustainable in the long run.
In order to keep your ‘focus crop’ growing well it helps to create a diverse farm to encourage pollinators, improve soil quality and overall productivity of your farm. Growing additional crops alongside your focus crop can also provide you with additional produce to eat or sell.
If you search online there are some great resources showing which plants work well as companion plants for specific crops. During your planning stage, take a look at some of these. Here is an example resource we have found:
What is Companion Planting?
The benefits of poly-culture (growing multiple crops) over monoculture (growing one crop) on a small farm include improvements to soil health, increases plot biodiversity and reductions in the need for pesticides.
Other examples of ‘focus-crops’ are:
Bee farming (for honey and other products)
Salad leaf growing
Green maize (in the dry season)
Did you know? – It works well to plant onions or leeks near carrots as they will help to repel carrot fly. Carrots also don’t like to be too hot, so if you can plant a tall plant, such as tomatoes, near them it can help to provide shade.
What is the cheapest form of irrigation for a small farm?
There are many things to consider when looking into the true cost of irrigation on a small farm.
The cheapest way to get water to your crops would be rainfall – however, there are hidden costs to waiting for the rain. Water falling from the sky may be free, but it is increasingly unpredictable and hard to manage. It also limits you to farming in the rainy seasons.
If the rain does not fall when your crops need it, you are putting them at risk of wilting and dying. The monetary risk here is that you lose the value of your seeds and any other inputs you have added to the soil – that has the potential to be really expensive.
When the rain falls, harvest it to use at other times
We always recommend harvesting rainwater where possible – from waterbutts to tanks or waterpans, making the most of the rain running off rooftops or across the ground is always worth it.
We’ve written some blog posts to give you some ideas on using rainwater most effectively…You can access them here:
For your crops to thrive, managed irrigation is important.
If you have rainfed tanks or another source such as a well or river then the next thing to consider is how you get your water to your crops. To get water flowing from a source below the ground, you will need to lift water somehow. This can either be done manually and/or using a pump.
To get water manually from a river, lake or well you can either use a bucket and lift the water by hand or a manual pump such as a treadle pump. Outwardly this method is the cheapest – you do not have to invest in a pump or other irrigation equipment. However, the cost here is in labour time and limitations to the size of area you can irrigate. Workers spending their day manually irrigating crops are not able to do other profit making work on the farm.
Unless you have a lot of labourers you will also be limited to a small area of land – this reduces your potential output and the amount you will be able to sell at market.
Fossil fuel powered pumps produce high flow-rates and are commonly used for flooding land in furrows for irrigation. There are several costs associated with fuel pump irrigation – the initial cost of the pump, maintenance (servicing and replacement every few years) and the cost of fuel. Due to the high-flows these pumps usually have to be closely monitored whilst in use to ensure that the crops get the right amount of water and fuel is not wasted.
Electric pumps require a source of electricity on the farm which is not always available. They also have the initial cost of the pump and the price of electricity to power the pump. They usually have lower flow-rates than petrol/diesel pumps which are easier to manage for irrigation.
As with all technology for the farm, the cost of a solar water pump can vary widely depending on the type of pump, and the technical capabilities of the system. In general, the larger the system and especially the larger the solar PV panel, the larger the price tag.
It is possible to purchase a solar pump on a budget, and over time, most solar systems will make and save you money. The money saving comes from not needing to purchase additional fuel over the years.
See our Ultimate Guide To Solar Water Pumps for more information and our blog – 4 things to know when going solar on your farm.
Whichever you choose, you should always do your best to be efficient with the resources you have.
We’ve put together a set of resources to help you irrigation effectively and efficiently. We cover some of the most common mistakes people make when setting up their irrigation system in our blog: Is your irrigation method setting up your farm for success?
What are some different types of irrigation?
There are many different ways to irrigate on your farm, and what you choose will depend on your crops, soil, budget and water source.
Irrigation methods range from the simple and easy, to those requiring the purchase of specialised equipment. Our video below outlines some of the most popular types of irrigation we’ve seen on small farms.
Furrow or flood
What is the most effective type of irrigation?
The answer to this question depends on your definition of ‘effective’. Drip irrigation is widely accepted as the most efficient form of irrigation as water drips directly into the soil at the base of the plant – this means you’re less likely to experience evaporation before the roots of the plants can take up the water.
However, setting up drip lines can be arduous – you have to be very careful not to tear or snag the drip tape as you set it up and every season you should remove all the lines before working on the soil. If your water source has sediment in it, sometimes the drip tape pores can become blocked which also reduces its effectiveness.
Sprinklers are less efficient but work well to get a ‘rain’ of water onto your crops and are much easier to set up and maintain. If the sprinkler head becomes blocked with sediment it is a quick job to clean it out.
However you choose to irrigate, irrigating in the morning or evening reduces water loss to evaporation and can be the most efficient way to use your water.
At Futurepump, our solar pumps have no battery so work best in the middle of the day – many of our customers use this free solar energy to pump water up to a tank to be used as gravity irrigation at the most efficient time of day.
You can read more about different irrigation options for small scale farming in our blog: What irrigation options are there for smallholder farmers?
We hope that this guide will be useful to you going forward. To get the most out of this guide you can download and print it and use the additional notes sections to help you plan your small farm.