GAINESVILLE — The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has approved a new conservation practice, a water conservation system commonly known as an Evaporative Cooling Pad, that will help reduce water and energy while improving plant productivity in Florida nursery operations and existing greenhouses. The new conservation practice can also be used for cooling livestock and poultry facilities.
Florida’s nursery and landscape industry generated $31.4 billion total output sales in 2020, according to the Florida Nursery, Growers, and Landscape Association. As a high-volume business, the cost of cooling a greenhouse can make or break a nursery. Smaller producers who use old water cooling systems consume high volumes of water, which is of concern when facing possible restricted water use ordinances. The new system helps growers meet their cooling needs quicker while saving energy and money.
“This new water conservation system helps conserve water by recirculating, reusing, recycling, or redirecting water for another use,” says Juan Hernandez, State Conservationist for NRCS in Florida. On average, an agricultural producer can save about 6 million gallons of water per year, depending on the greenhouse size and management.
Growers using evaporative cooling, typically use two-inch thick hog hair pads, approximately five-feet tall, installed the length of the greenhouse on one side. Sprinklers or drip pipes wet the pads with water, draining onto the floor, as large exhaust fans opposite the pads pull air from outside through the wet pads and into the nursery. This process creates a large “swamp cooler.”
Hog hair or synthetic hog hair pads can waste water and are less effective at cooling, requiring producers to run the systems longer, using more energy and shortening the lifespan of the equipment. NRCS can replace existing deteriorated pad systems, where water is primarily lost due to a lack of recycling system, with new, six-inch cellulose pads and recycling systems that allow excess water to drain into a trough that is routed into a tank to be recirculated and reused.
Florida NRCS encourages interested nursery owners to contact their nearest local NRCS Office for details on how to incorporate this new “cooling pad” water conservation system practice into their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) plan. Although EQIP applications are accepted on a continuing basis, the current funding cycle for EQIP applications closes on Sept. 2. All applications received after that date will be considered for a future funding cycle.
Benefits of EQIP
EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that helps producers make conservation work for them. Through EQIP, NRCS provides agricultural producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improvements, or what NRCS calls conservation practices. Using these practices can lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil, and better wildlife habitat, all while improving agricultural operations.
More on NRCS
NRCS, originally called the Soil Conservation Service, was created in 1935 as a direct response to the Dust Bowl. NRCS helps private landowners improve the health of their operations while protecting natural resources for the future.