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Solar energy powers irrigation in Brazil

3 min read
May 13, 2023
With high energy costs and looming drought across Brazil, JCN Group Farms looked to more sustainable farming practices to conserve valuable resources while meeting food demand. Photovoltaic (PV) arrays are being installed to use solar energy to power irrigation systems across more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland.
  • Project
    Implement solar-powered irrigation systems to conserve resources and increase crop production, especially in traditionally off-grid regions.
  • Location
    Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo
  • Challenge
    Create self-sufficient, high-performance farming operations using solar energy and more efficient irrigation practices.
  • Solution
    • Ag Solar Installation (3.5MW photovoltaic energy) • 13 Valley® Center Pivots Equipped with Valley X-Tec Center-Drive Motors • Valley Remote Irrigation Management

As countries across the globe look for renewable energy sources to curb climate impact, Brazil is among those turning to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Unlike traditional solar panels that convert solar radiation into heat, PV panels convert thermal energy into electricity. The sunny climate, ongoing drought and the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions have led to greater development of these systems to power industrial, agriculture and domestic processing operations. From 2012 to 2024, the use of PV solar energy will have increased from approximately 30,000 facilities to more than 890,000 residential, industrial and agricultural areas. The shift to this alternative energy source includes powering irrigation systems. For JCN Group Farms, the technology is helping to save costs, bring irrigation to off-grid areas, and reduce their carbon footprint. JCN owns farms spread across over 202,600 acres (81,989 hectares) in Brazil. While much of the land is used for production, more than 86,000 acres (34,802 hectares) are being preserved as natural habitats. The operation spans Brazil’s central and southern states, including Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo. The farms produce cotton, soybeans, corn, coffee and livestock. According to JCN Group Director Kriss Corso, growing crops and livestock sustainably allows the operation to become more self-sufficient while minimizing its environmental impact. After implementing their first PV solar arrays in Mato Grosso do Sul, a study was completed to help JCN Group determine whether the investment in the alternative energy source has the potential to offset high energy costs, ultimately paying for itself over time. Projected savings and the solution of renewable energy on farms in Mato Grosso encouraged Corso to expand solar power across multiple farms in all three states. JCN partnered with Valley for a full suite of solutions to expand their PV arrays and provide center pivot irrigation systems, including Valley X-Tec® 343 center-drive motors and remote irrigation management. The center-drive motors increase the speed and power of pivots, making it possible for growers to complete a standard pivot irrigation circle in as little as 90 minutes, streamlining operations and conserving water. Taking their irrigation systems even further, JCN also uses remote irrigation management to save time traveling between fields, monitor the performance of their pivots and control them from anywhere. Currently, JCN irrigates just over 8,000 acres of its farmland. JCN identified that energy costs had risen 60% over the last four years before deciding to implement solar solutions. Early predictions of how solar energy could lower energy costs showed an eight-year payoff. However, Corso believes the investment will pay for itself after six years. Additionally, the technology has allowed JCN to bring power and pivot irrigation to areas previously unable to use modern practices. Ag Solar solutions are proving to reduce energy costs and conserve natural resources, while the Valley center pivots are improving the efficiency of JCN’s irrigation program and lowering emissions by reducing trips to monitor fields. The combined resource savings further improve lives by increasing crop production and securing jobs in agriculture across an expansive region of Brazil.