Even on a cloudy day, it seems like the sun is always shining on the Beller Feedlot family farm in Nebraska.
A sign at the entrance to the feedlot on Highway 91 near Lindsay in northeast Nebraska proudly proclaims “Family Owned Since 1958” and advises “Enjoy Beef.” Started with just two steers and a can-do spirit, Beller Feedlot has grown to where it now finishes about 12,000 head of cattle annually, targeting the prestigious Certified Angus Beef® brand. And now the third generation of Bellers are involved in the operation of the feedlot and farm.
On this particular day, the sky is clear as can be and the sun is shining bright as ever on the Bellers’ irrigated cornfield. Pivots are running as much as possible to help fill the ears and supplement a rain deficit this July.
Nearby, in the same irrigated cornfield, a massive new solar panel array is cranking out 25 kilowatts of electricity to help power the Bellers’ irrigation system and pump, which in turn are being used to water the corn growing under that same hot summer sun.
The Lindsay solar-powered center pivot irrigation project is designed to help the Bellers save money on their irrigation bill and to generate additional revenue during non- irrigation times of the year.
“We were looking for something new and exciting and this is it,” says Terry Beller, who along with his brother, Mike, operate Beller Feedlot. “We normally irrigate about seven weeks during the year, so the other 45 weeks of the year, the solar panels are generating ROI, and that’s a real benefit for us.”
Lindsay helped spearhead the project, one of the first commercial solar-powered center pivot irrigation projects of its kind in Nebraska, by providing technical, logistical and product support to the Bellers.
“Lindsay offers growers a broad line of integrated irrigation solutions, from pumps to pivots and plug-and-play add-ons – all designed to help make growers more productive, efficient and profitable,” says Randy Wood, Lindsay vice president of sales and marketing. “Solar projects like this are another opportunity for Lindsay to collaborate and partner with growers on technology innovations and product add-ons that lead to greater efficiency and profitability on their farms.”
The solar panels at Beller Feedlot consist of five stationary photovoltaic (solar electric) racks. Each rack is 13 feet deep and 27 feet wide. The entire array is 9 feet high and 139 feet long. The panels have a “name- plated” capacity of 25 kilowatts and an estimated lifespan of 25 years.
Three pivots and the main water pump tie into the project.
If, for example, the irrigation water pump and the pivot motors are using a total of 50 kilowatts of electricity, the Bellers will see an immediate reduction of 25 kilowatts in the amount of electricity that they are buying. When not providing power for the pump and pivots, the solar array puts additional electricity back into the electrical grid, which the Bellers receive credit for at the end of the year from their utility provider.
“This solar array allows the Bellers to reduce their power consumption from the commercial grid, but because they are still tied into the grid, they don’t have to rely on solar power alone. This provides a very flexible solution that reduces their operating costs, but never puts their ability to irrigate at risk,” Wood says.
An interesting side note to this solar project is that Terry and Mike Beller’s father, Jim Beller, who started Beller Feedlot and who is still active in the operation, bought the fifth center pivot ever produced by Lindsay in 1969. That pivot is still operating at its original location and is now being powered, in part, by electricity generated from the solar panels.
Terry Beller sees the connection.
“When my dad bought that pivot in 1969, it was a lot of money at the time and something totally new. He probably wondered if it was a wise investment, if it would pan out. Well, that pivot is still pumping and running as we speak today. The best thing my dad ever did was invest in that pivot,” Terry Beller says.
“The first person I talked to about doing this solar project was my dad. He encouraged me. He said, ‘Go for it!’”
With less energy usage, a federal tax credit and a renewable energy grant, the solar project is expected to pay for itself in less than seven years.
The following companies and organizations helped to make the Lindsay solar-powered center pivot irrigation project possible:
- Beller Feedlot (Terry and Mike Beller)
- Lindsay Corporation
- Nebraska Public Power District
- Loup River Public Power District
- Solar Heat & Electric in Omaha (provider and installer of the solar panels)
- Frisch Electric in Lindsay, Nebraska