WA farmers invest in energy

01 Sep, 2018 04:00 AM
Natasha Greenwood, Commonwealth Bank general manager regional and agribusiness banking for WA, said local farmers were leading the way in looking to control their on-farm energy costs.
Natasha Greenwood, Commonwealth Bank general manager regional and agribusiness banking for WA, said local farmers were leading the way in looking to control their on-farm energy costs.

WESTERN Australian farmers lead the country in looking at more efficient and innovative energy sources, Commonwealth Bank research has revealed.

Almost half of WA farmers are keen to invest in energy efficiency on-farm, more than in any other State, according to research released this week by the Commonwealth Bank.

The bank’s latest Agri Insights report looked at different facets of energy usage on farms across the country, including what it costs, how reliable it is and how producers might manage it in the future.

The report analysed responses from 1000 farmers nationally, including about 100 in WA who reported energy bills across electricity, gas, diesel fuel and other sources now comprised 11 per cent of their total farm input costs.

The research showed 46 per cent of WA farmers were very or extremely interested in investing in energy efficiency on farm, compared to a national average of 41pc.

Commonwealth Bank general manager regional and agribusiness banking for WA, Natasha Greenwood, said local farmers were keen to take control of their energy future in whatever ways they can.

“Our farmers know that investing in things like solar and battery back-up will put them in a position of greater control and choice and give them greater operational flexibility,” Ms Greenwood said.

She said WA farmers also led the country in interest in solar power with battery back-up – 84pc interested in WA, compared to 76pc nationally – and wind generated energy – 25pc interested in WA, compared to 18pc nationally.

Energy cost was the key concern, Ms Greenwood said, with three-quarters of WA farmers putting energy cost ahead of reliability as a bigger concern.

But reliability, irrespective of whether they had prior warning of planned outages or supply shortages, is also considered important.

The research showed WA farmers are more concerned about energy reliability than their South Australian counterparts, when it might be assumed because of SA’s history of blackouts and electricity infrastructure damage that the opposite might be true, she said.

“Western Australian producers are in a different boat to the rest of the nation because there are fewer energy suppliers, so there is not that same level of market competition,” Ms Greenwood said.

“It makes sense that both cost and reliability become areas of concern under these circumstances.

“WA farmers realise they need a plan B on energy and that taking charge of meeting their own needs offers them greater operational flexibility and less reliance on third-party providers or government,” she said.

Concerns about energy costs, reliability and interest in improving energy efficiency was most evident in intensive farming sectors like dairy, poultry and pigs, the research found.

But the report showed 52pc of the surveyed WA farmers said rising energy costs have a moderate or significant impact on their operation.

While this is lower than the national average of 61pc, Ms Greenwood said it still pointed to significant concern about the impact of energy costs.

“More than half the farmers in the State are really feeling the impact of energy costs in their businesses.

“The good news, though, is that they’re seeing this not as something to just accept but as something to address by looking at alternatives,” she said.

“It also shows how innovative and adaptive WA farmers are.

“As well as looking at alternative sources to reduce costs, they are also looking at innovative ways to reduce usage like switching to LED lighting and certified energy efficient machinery and equipment.

“Some of my farmer clients have developed such a level of expertise in solar systems for farming that they are now sharing that expertise with other farmers.

“Whether or not they believe in climate change or man-induced global warming doesn’t matter, what they are saying is that high energy costs are clearly with us and are likely to continue to grow and our energy dependency is also likely to grow.

“So we as farmers need to find ways to mitigate that to reduce energy as a farming cost and investigating alternative energy sources, whether it be solar or wind or gas, is a part of that thinking.”

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