Coaldale, Alberta, Canada
Brothers Chris and Harold Perry farm in Alberta, Canada. Their land has topography challenges such as hills and depressions that can cause variability in the quality and quantity of their potato crop. In portions of the field with depressions, the potatoes are susceptible to rot, whereas in the hilly areas that are challenged to receive enough water, the potatoes are typically smaller and yield is lower.
The brothers also experience storage challenges that result from potatoes grown in fields with varied topography, primarily in low areas or depressions. The potatoes from these areas typically need to be shipped to the processor earlier, which means the Perry brothers are paid a lower price for the potatoes. The longer a potato crop can be stored, the more valuable it is to the grower. With a higher quality of harvested potatoes, there will typically be less storage challenges for the grower during the storage season.
The Perrys wanted to evaluate the benefit of using a variable rate irrigation (VRI) system. As a result, they used Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ solution on a seven-tower pivot with a corner arm to apply a variable rate of irrigation to a 127-acre field. However, in a nearby 132-acre field, they grew another crop of potatoes and used a pivot that did not have a VRI system installed. This gave the Perrys a side-by-side comparison of VRI and non-VRI production.
“Variable rate irrigation allowed us to control every area of the field and monitor that throughout the growing season,” said Chris Perry. “We took UAV imagery of the crop every week as it was growing and then changed the amount of water we were applying via VRI depending on what the images were telling us.”
The Perry brothers decided to try the Irrigate-IQ system because it had the level of precision they were looking for, and it enabled them to control every sprinkler nozzle rather than a bank of sprinklers. Also influencing their decision was the fact that Irrigate-IQ had VRI capabilities on the corner arm.
“We want to control every sprinkler because that provides the opportunity to control the field down to the smallest pixel possible. The goal is to create quality and uniformity throughout the field and to deliver the best quality potato into our customer’s hands,” said Chris Perry.
In addition, providing a consistently high quality product helps ensure continued purchases by the Perry brothers’ customers and solidifies those long-term relationships.
The Return on Investment (ROI)
- Nearly 100% of the VRI field’s potatoes were put into long-term storage without concern for rot, whereas in the non-VRI field, 80% of the potatoes had to be shipped directly to the processor from the field. (The longer a potato can be stored, the more valuable it is.)
- The VRI field resulted in 10% more acres harvested—a value of about $67,350 Canadian Dollars.
- In one crop season, the Irrigate-IQ solution more than paid for itself in increased yield alone.
“Without a doubt the Irrigate-IQ system did a better job irrigating than the system that had no variable rate irrigation—it was certainly a success,” said Chris Perry. “We were able to put the potatoes from the VRI field into storage comfortably so there was less spoilage or rot issues as compared to the field next to it. For fields that vary in topography and soil, using variable rate irrigation absolutely makes a difference.”
Irrigate-IQ allows growers to monitor and control irrigation systems remotely and apply the optimal amount of water or fertigation where needed through variable rate irrigation. The system’s nozzle-by-nozzle control:
- Improves crop quality and yield
- Optimizes water resources
- Increases water use efficiency
- Minimizes input costs of water, fertigation, chemigation, or effluent
- Reduces energy costs for fuel and electricity
- Reduces trips to the field
- Ensures even application to reduce run-off and leaching
- Safely disposes of effluent while nurturing the field
- Enables growers to apply water only to the best producing areas within a field
Leadore, Idaho, USA
After putting himself through college by installing and repairing electric center pivot systems, Jordan Whittaker actually thought about becoming a dealer for the company. “The idea was to generate a little more cash flow and diversify beyond ranching,” he recalls.
“Then I realized, if I did that, my dad wouldn’t even buy one from me because he likes T-L systems so much better.” Instead, the 27 year old contacted T-L Irrigation and became a dealer for hydraulically driven pivot systems.
Operating as Two Dot Irrigation and Supply, Jordan and his wife, Susan, have already sold and installed nine units near their home in Leadore, Idaho. Plus, they have another five units scheduled for installation this fall in Idaho’s Lemhi Valley.
However, center pivot sales only account for a portion of their time. The couple have also joined Jordan’s parents, James and Paula Whittaker, in the operation of Two Dot Ranch.
Jordan’s brother, Chase, is also involved on the ranch, particularly during the summer when he’s not attending college. Just seven years short of its 100th anniversary, Two Dot Ranch was first established by Jordan’s great grandfather.
Since then, however, the ranch has grown to incorporate approximately 18,000 acres and 2,000 head of Angus/ Salers cross cows that are supported by high mountain pastures and a network of irrigated hay fields.
“So far, our sales of T-L systems have only come through word of mouth advertising,” Jordan relates. “We had thought we might be able to sell four or five units a year. Instead, it’s been 14 in the first year alone.
The people who buy them like them so well they keep talking about them to everyone else.” As the owners of nine T-L units, including one new 1,500-foot unit installed this past spring, the Whittakers have plenty to say themselves.
It was only by accident that the family learned the benefits of a hydraulically driven unit in the first place. “We already had a few electric center pivot units on the ranch when we bought a used T-L unit from the southern part of the state,” Jordan explains.
“That was in 1992, and the system was already nearly ten years old then. Anyway, we tore it down, moved it up here, put it back together, flipped the switch and it took right off. “Most of our electric pivots were used when we bought them, too, but that had never happened with one of them.” He continues, “It was more like flip the switch and then hunt for problems and start replacing switches.”
“We’ve also spent several hundred dollars having technicians come out and make repairs on the electric units,” James adds. “Our ranch is a good two hours from the nearest dealer, so service calls don’t come cheap.”
All total, approximately 2,200 acres of the Two Dot Ranch are now under center pivot irrigation, while another several hundred acres of pastures and fields are still flood irrigated. Except for a few fields of barley and peas, which are also grown for feed, all of the irrigated ground is in grass hay.
“We only have about 45 frost free days a year, so we really can’t grow anything but grass and feed crops,” Jordan explains. “Our last snow this season was about two weeks before the fourth of July.” Susan adds, noting that the ranch ranges from 6,800 to 7,100 feet in elevation. “But we still turn on the pivots in May, even though we often have to turn them off at night, when it gets too cold.”
Around July, the hay is harvested the one time for the season and put up in big square bales that are used to feed the herd during spring calving. The only other time the hay fields are used is during the fall and early winter when cattle are brought down from the summer ranges to graze on the regrowth.
Ironically, because beef is their only cash crop, the Whittakers have discovered a few other advantages to a T-L system. “The T-L is a great pivot for the cattleman for several reasons,” says James, who learned the ranching business from his own father and grandfather. “It’s a lot more labor friendly and requires a lot less maintenance.
Even if something does go wrong, we’ve been able to figure it out ourselves without having to bring somebody in from 120 miles away. But the other thing is the T-L systems don’t have an exposed driveline that can wrap up grass or that the cattle can use for a back rub.”
“The cow man has really become my niche market,” Jordan adds. “Compared to electric pivots, the T-L machine is a lot better suited for exposure to livestock. Every year, we end up replacing switches and wiring that the cattle have torn loose on the electric pivots,” he continues.
“I’ve also seen them pull the drive lines apart and break the motor brackets off while scratching their backs. With the T-L pivots, everything is protected. As a result, start-up usually consists of changing the hydraulic filters and turning them on.”
Even more impressive, says Jordan, is the fact that one of the T-L pivots is nearly as old as he is and still going. “In fact, seven of the nine T-L pivots on the ranch are more than 20 years old,” he relates. “Yet, they still have at least 90 percent or more of their original components.”
As if they needed any more reasons to prefer T-L pivots over electric versions, Jordan explains that T-L models can operate on single phase power lines instead of the three phase lines. “The power company won’t run threephase lines into very many areas, and they’ve stopped allowing any phase conversions,” says Jordan.
“So the only alternative would be to power the unit with a diesel engine; and it doesn’t make much sense to add that maintenance on top of an electric unit.” As it is, Jordan says it only costs the ranch around $200 to $250 per pivot per year for irrigation. That’s because all the pivots are gravity pressurized through a minimum of 100 feet of slope from the water source.
“We get plenty of snow up in the mountains; but through the year, we only get around eight to 12 inches of rain,” he concludes. “So if we don’t irrigate, we don’t have a hay crop.”
Castleford, Idaho, USA
As an irrigation manager for Primo Farms, Rick Rodges isn’t the one who makes the final decision on centerpivot irrigation system purchases, but he does have a strong opinion about the subject and he’s not afraid to share his thoughts and suggestions with the farm’s owners.
Perhaps that’s why the last six centerpivot systems installed on the farm’s Castleford, Idaho, operation have been T-L units.
According to Rodges, Primo Farms first expanded onto the bench south of Salmon Falls Creek, located approximately 20 miles north of the Nevada border, in 1996 by purchasing 3,200 acres from a family estate.
Ironically, Rodges was already farming in the area, having moved with his parents from Colorado to Idaho in 1973. “My wife and I still have 400 acres of our own land that we bought in 1980,” he says. “In fact, we were still farming it ourselves until four years ago.”
That’s when Rodges took the job with Primo Farms and rented his land to his new employer — making him, in a sense, both a landlord and an employee.
“Primo Farms actually expanded here from Aberdeen, Idaho, where they have another 4,000 acres,” he explains. “The difference is they rent a lot of the land in Aberdeen, but they had the opportunity to buy the ground here.”
Since most of the property was under flood irrigation, the first thing the new owners did was install 12 electrically driven pivots and plant the farm to a 50/50 mix of wheat and alfalfa. Today, a total of 1,900 acres is under pivot units. Another 280 acres is irrigated with wheel lines and the balance is in corners or flood irrigated.
“Fortunately, all of the most recently installed pivots have been T-L units,” Rodges explains. “That includes three 40-acres pivots that are positioned inline in one narrow field and three quarter- section pivots that were put in last year.
“The owners have also told me that any new pivots they add from now on will be T-L models,” he adds.
Rodges is quick to list of number of reasons for his preference, but chief among them is the reliability, which translates into less maintenance.
“I realize the electric units are over nine years old, but I’ve already had to change four motors this year,” he relates. “And then there’s the problem with flies and leafcutter bees getting into the control boxes and causing electrical problems.
“The manufacturer claims their boxes are sealed, but I think leafcutter bees could get into a glass jar with a lid on it,” he says with a grin. “One little fly in the wrong place can hold a switch open and bring the whole thing to a stop.”
In contrast, Rodges says the T-L units seem to go non-stop… literally. Unlike the electrically driven units, which stop and start repeatedly, he says T-L’s hydraulic drive system moves slow and steady day in and day out.
“We try to put on 1 1/2 inches of water on the alfalfa every six days,” he says. “Over the same time period, we’ll put about 1 1/3 inches on the wheat until it’s almost ready to harvest. After we’ve cut and baled the straw, we’ll water the fields again to build up a reserve for fall.”
One of the things Rodges always notices, though, is that the wheel ruts under the T-L pivots are always several inches shallower than those under the other pivots.
“If you watch, an electric pivot will stop and start hundreds of times as it goes around the field,” he explains. “And it’s not an easy stop. Every time it stops, it jerks; and every time it starts, it jerks.”
“Since the tracks are filled with water, the wheels also tend to slip almost every time they start,” he continues. “Naturally, that just digs the rut a little deeper.”
That may not be an issue with some people, but Rodges says it matters when he and the other employees have to run a windrower and big square baler over the field three times a year.
While the wheat is evenly divided between spring and winter varieties for grain, alfalfa is grown and managed primarily for the dairy market. Last year alone, the farm shipped nearly 6,000 tons of alfalfa in 4 X 4 square bales to dairies around Twin Falls and Jerome. Hence, shallower ruts mean less bouncing and less wear on trucks, balers and implements alike.
In his mind, it’s just one more example of how a T-L system makes it easier on the operator… whether he’s managing the pivots or traversing the field in a tractor.
White Swan, Washington, USA
The ability to climb a 17-degree hill without slipping is just one of the reasons these Washington state farmers prefer T-L’s continuous movement.
When Rich Knight and his dad, Rick Knight, decided to install their most recent center pivot unit, they were surprised to learn that one competitor wasn’t even willing to give them a cost estimate. The salesman was afraid their pivot wouldn’t climb the 43-foot hill that comprised the upper end of the Knight’s quarter-section cornfield.
“There are a lot steeper hills in the area,” says Rich, who farms around 1,000 acres in partnership with his dad near White Swan, Washington. “But with a 17-degree grade and rise of more than 40 feet from bottom to top, this one is obviously more than some pivots can handle.”
To make matters worse, the field, which hasn’t been farmed in more than 20 years, contains a high percentage of alkali soil, which becomes very sticky when it is wet. Consequently, Rich says he couldn’t envision an electric-drive pivot working very well anyway.”
The way I figure it, trying to pull that hill with an electric-drive unit that continually starts and stops would be like revving up a car engine and letting out the clutch,” he says. “It would just dig itself into a rut and it would be stuck.”
Although corn is an important crop for the Knights, their main commodity is alfalfa, which is marketed directly to a nearby dairy. Corn and wheat only serve as rotation crops for the 600 acres that are devoted to hay.
“Because we only get about seven inches of rain a year, everything is under irrigation,” Rich explains. “We have three electric mini-pivots and three T-L center pivots — one sweep that covers 80 acres; a regular circular pivot, and a corner pivot that covers 146 acres, while navigating around two houses. The rest of the farm is covered with wheel lines.”
Unfortunately, the lateral- moving wheel lines are much more labor intensive than the pivots; and fields watered with wheel lines can’t be rotated to corn, due to the lack of clearance.
“We generally rotate a field out of alfalfa every five to six years,” says Rich, noting that they normally get five cuttings per season off of each field. “At that point, we’ll rotate the fields with center pivots to one year of corn and one year of wheat before going back to alfalfa. On fields with wheel line irrigation, we’ll go with two years of wheat. That’s another reason we’d like to add at least three more center pivot units.”
Rich says center pivot irrigation is also preferable for applying fertilizer. In fact, the Knights use chemigation on every field that has a pivot.
“I think we use less nitrogen when we ‘spoon feed’ it on through the pivot…” “On our alfalfa, we’ll take soil samples in the spring and then put on about 20 gallons per hour of custom-blended fertilizer until the recommended levels have been met.”
Rich says they put about half of the nitrogen required by a corn crop through the pivots, as well. That’s in addition to phosphate, potash, sulfur and micronutrients.
“I think we use less nitrogen when we ‘spoon feed’ it on through the pivot,” he adds. “It goes immediately to the plant and you don’t have to worry about it leaching down through the soil or running off.
“The key is getting it spread evenly,” Rich continues. “Of course, that’s another benefit of T-L’s continuous movement.You wouldn’t think of going through a field with a tractor and fertilizer spreader and stopping and starting every few feet; yet that’s what an electric pivot is doing.”
On the other hand, Rick has his own reasons — besides the continuous movement and ability to climb hills — for preferring T-L center pivot units over electric-drive units. “I know how to work with hydraulics and I’m not afraid of 24 volts,” he says. “But 480 volts tend to scare me.”
However, Rich says electric- drive pivots concern him for another reason. According to Knight, the state of Washington has adopted the National Electrical Code for center pivot irrigation systems, which means the junction box on every pivot tower has to be checked by a state inspector.
“Unfortunately, they don’t seem to know there is a difference between the T-L units and other brands,” Rich laments. “On the other hand, there’s nothing to prevent a T-L from passing, since there are no junction boxes on the towers.
“As far as I’m concerned, anything we can do to reduce the amount of government regulation — which seems to be getting worse instead of better — is worth it,” he adds. “But the best feature is still the consistency.”
“We’ve all seen how the tractor industry is moving toward CVT transmissions for infinitely variable speed, without the jerking that comes with powershift and gear range changes,” Rick concludes. “Why wouldn’t you want that with your irrigation system?”