Tanks Installed at the Top of the Hill
The Solar Array
Mike Paine Showing Participants of a Water Conservation Tour the System's Filter Bank
Mike Paine Showing the Sunpump in the Irrigation Pond

Gaining Ground Farm Goes Solar

By Michael J Paine, Farmer

More than three years ago we began to imagine how we could reinvent the irrigation systems at Gaining Ground Farm. The most challenging issue for us has always been electricity and how to irrigate without it. We have no power in or even near the fields and no interest from the power company to add us to the grid without significant investment from us. For our first three years (and the better part of the three that followed) we used high pressure, gas powered pumps to push water all over the property. While these pumps were efficient as high-pressure movers of water, they created numerous challenges to our system. Being gas powered, they needed to be refilled every two hours and several times a day someone would have to stop working to make the trek to refill the pump.  Additionally, because of the pressure and volume that these pumps moved our irrigation water at, we were forced to use handlines and overhead sprinklers instead of more efficient driplines.  This increased weed competition and demanded more man hours in order to remove weeds and to move the handlines across fields according to our irrigation calendar.  We needed a change.

Early on in researching how a solar pump system would work, I went to the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District and I asked Mike Crabtree what his thoughts were. From that point on he and the conservation district were crucial partners in the design and implementation of the project.  By combining cost share through Organic-EQIP program and Oregon’s OWEB program (Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board) we were able to make this project a reality.  An essential part of this project was being able to work with John Gillilan, a USDA engineer, who took our rough idea and ensured it was as safe and efficient as possible.  Before this project, a solar pump system had not been implemented in an irrigation scenario making this project a unique challenge to engineer.

The system was completed in the summer of 2010. A 2-kilowatt solar array powers a solar specific pump (made by Sunpumps). During solar hours of the day the pump pushes water up the hill to 10,000 gallons worth of storage tanks. The system then uses gravity flow to power the drip irrigation system in the fields below.  By using computerized valves we are able to increase our irrigation efficiency by pulse irrigating on the shoulders of the day and through the night.  This system is also tied into an adjunct rainwater catchment system that catches rainwater off of our house and shop and directs it to the holding tanks.  The overflow from the tanks then gets routed back down the hill, via a drainage pipe, to the irrigation pond.  

The benefits of this system are compelling.  It seems possible that we can cut our water consumption in half and at the same time increase the efficiency of our water delivery to our crops. Also there are erosion control benefits from the thousands of gallons of water that would run off our buildings roofs now being captured for use in irrigation. The estimated water savings over 5 years is 203,730 gallons that will not be taken from the aquifer.  Personally, between the time we used to spend directly on irrigation and time saved from cultivation, we might have several hours per day that we can dedicate to other farm activities. I hesitate to add we might even be able to take a day off.  

Payton Erosion Control Project

By: Marie Vicksta


Christiane Payton has a diverse business producing locker lamb, wool, and breeding stock for both Lincoln and Romney sheep.  Her farm is bordered by an unnamed tributary that feeds into the North Yamhill River.  In the winter time her herd is approximately 65 ewes in the barnyard which had little erosion protection from rainwater and overland flow.  Consequently, the barnyard area was prone to mud and erosion problems.  

Christiane approached the NRCS and the SWCD looking for ideas to improve the winter conditions for her sheep as well as reduce the impact of runoff on the stream.  After looking at various options, Christiane decided that constructing a heavy use area (HUA) to confine her sheep in the winter time and installing adequate gutters on both of her barn buildings would be the best solution.  


The District applied for and received an OWEB grant for cost share on these practices.  Construction commenced almost immediately.  Gutters were delivered and hung which connected to an underground outlet directly to the stream, which alone would drastically improve the condition of the barnyard by preventing excess water from running through the animal area.  Next, the work for the HUA was contracted.  He excavated about 5 inches of soil which was then lined with a geotextile material (TYPAR) and filled it with 1 ½ inch crushed rock.  Then Christiane installed a fence around the HUA and seeded with a grass mix to reestablish grass around the barn area and help filter the water coming off the HUA.  

While this work was going on, Christiane also enrolled in the CREP program to reestablish the riparian buffer to the stream.  Christiane and her children took on the blackberries and other weeds lining the stream for the majority of project area and will plant a mix of trees and shrubs in the spring.

Christiane feels the barnyard has been drastically improved.  The gutters move water away from the buildings where the sheep congregate during the bad weather in winter.  The installation of the heavy use area also keeps the animals from churning the wet ground into mud during the rainy season. The Paytons are very grateful to have had this opportunity and feel that the improvements are good for the overall health of the stream as well as for the sheep.