Rowland, North Carolina
Even though it’s been nearly four years since he “got rid of tobacco” on his Rowland, North Carolina, farm, Michael “Bo” Stone, says he still doesn’t regret the decision. For one thing, it allowed Stone, who farms approximately 2,300 acres with his wife, Missy, and his parents, Tommy and Bonnie Stone, to buy his first T-L center pivot unit. Basically, the Stones took the money they made from selling their tobacco equipment and invested it in irrigation for their corn and soybean crops.
Equally important, Stone says dropping the labor-intensive crop allows him to spend more time with his family, which includes three children under the age of 13.
“Traditionally,wewereatobacco farm with around 80 to 100 acres in tobacco each year,” Stone relates. “However, it had gotten to where the markets weren’t as good as they once were. And as diversified and ‘hands-on’ as we were, it was getting hard to keep up with everything.
“It got to the point,” he continues, “that my kids would still be in bed when I left in the morning and they’d be back in bed by the time I got home at night. Then I’d get home from church on Sunday and fall asleep in the chair. That’s when I decided something wasn’t right. It’s hard to be both a good tobacco farmer and a good father and husband.”
The winner of the 2010 North Carolina Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, Stone admits the operation is still pretty diversified with field corn, soybeans, wheat, strawberries and sweet corn, as well as around 70 head of cows and a hog feeding operation that finishes about 10,000 head annually from six barns.
“Our crop mix didn’t change when we dropped tobacco,” he says. “We just took it out of the mix, which not only gave us more time to devote to the other crops, but opened the door to irrigation.”
This year was the first year Stone has had any soybeans under irrigation, but he expects those to benefit as much from the extra water as the corn has after just four years of irrigation. After putting in that first pivot in 2008, Stone has already added four more full- and half-circle pivots, bringing the number of irrigated acres to just over 500.
“We were hit with a couple years of severe drought in this area a while back, so people have been looking for ways to lessen the effects of those times, while also increasing yields on the fields they own,” Stone relates. “Obviously,thejumpinthenumber of irrigated acres in this area has really coincided with the spike in commodity prices.
“On the other hand, I don’t farm anything for crop insurance; I put in the pivots for higher yields and to make money,” he confesses. “Now, is that an added level of insurance for me?” he asks. “Certainly, and barring a hail storm or wind storm, I should always have better yields under irrigation.”
Stone notes that the family’s five-year average on dryland corn has been in the range of 125 to 130 bushels per acre, with dryland soybeans yielding from 30 to 35 bushels/acres. With irrigation, he says, 220 bushels per acre or more in corn is not out of the norm. In fact, last year, they had the highest certified no-till irrigated corn plot in the state at 268 bushels per acre.
“We’ve picked the ‘low-hanging fruit’ first,” he remarks. “That is, we’ve already put T-L pivots on thelargest fields where the cost per acre is the lowest.”
Still, Stone says he is already looking at adding even more T-L pivots next year and hopes to eventually have all of the land that he and his family own under irrigation. If he can work out an agreement, he hopes to add irrigation to some of the land that is under a long-term lease, as well.
Stone isn’t likely to sway away from T-L, though, even if there was a price difference.
“When you find something you like, you tend to stick with it,” he insists. “When we first looked at putting in pivots, we looked at T-L, as well as some of the electric models,” he adds. “But I liked the fact that the T-L didn’t have copper wire running the length of it. I have neighbors who have had serious problems with people stealing the wire off their pivots. So the idea of hydraulic drive in place of electrical components appealed to me.
“After doing a little more research on the T-L, I also liked the more even watering pattern that you get from a constantly moving machine — particularly since we’re using the pivots to apply nitrogen. And I think the reliability of it is very good, as well. We’ve not had any issues at all in that respect.”
Stone says another deciding factor has been Mark Stockton, his T-L dealer in Lumberton, North Carolina. Stone explains that while they started working with Mark at another dealership, they stayed with him when he moved closer and opened his own business under the name, Circle S Irrigation.
“He not only understands irrigation and the fact that the machines need to run when we need them, but he has done a good job of putting together classes to help teach us about irrigation and water management,” Stone adds. “So he has actually helped us to be better stewards of our resources, while being better producers.
“I represent the sixth generation of my family on this farm,” he concludes. “Yet, my goal isn’t any different than it has been for previous generations. That is to produce high-quality food and farm products in a profitable and environmentally responsible manner. We’re just doing it in a little different manner today with the help of irrigation.”
Wilmington, North Carolina
Samuel P. Hawes IV refers to it as a “partnership” of sorts that makes their system the “ultimate type of treatment” for a landfill. Sam is the manager of the New Hanover County Landfill at Wilmington, North Carolina.
You might not think of landfill operation as exciting, but, that’s not the case when it’s utilizing advanced technology that wins national awards, international attention, and visits from interested officials from as far away as India and Thailand.
Landfill operators almost everywhere are looking for low cost, alternative treatment systems versus conventional treatment methods. New Hanover’s truly cutting edge technology “partnership” landfill system, according to Hawes, is one that effectively and efficiently marries wetlands with sprinkler irrigation.
When it rains, water percolates through the landfill waste and picks up contaminates called leachates. So, like any other waste water, it has to be treated before it can be discharged to surface waters.
Historically, conventional waste water treatment plants do this job but treating nitrogen, especially during the winter, can be a problem. Additionally, a licensed operator has be on duty five days a week, and there’s maintenance on the blower, samples must be taken and submitted to a laboratory for analysis—in short, the plant and its operation is expensive.
Five years ago landfill management decided to try something new in the hope of being able to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the discharge water.
First, rather than operating a waste treatment plant, the raw, untreated leachate is run through wetlands primary “filters”. When it leaves the wetlands the water is basically a low grade liquid fertilizer.
Second, the landfill area is covered with a synthetic liner. After two feet of soil is placed on top, grass is seeded to protect against erosion.
Next, a T-L center-pivot was installed, through which the waste water is applied at a rate such that the soil can assimilate the nutrients. Tests are made to ensure that all the wastewater can be handled without any runoff.
That was the plan, and, “It’s met our expectations,” Hawes reports. The first T-L pivot system covers ten wetted areas on what appears to be a rather steep, 98-foot high hill. A second T-L system put in last year, covers a similar area on another man-made hill nearby.
“We’ve treated approximately seven million gallons of raw leachate with this system that otherwise would have had to be processed through a treatment plant,” Hawes observes. “The county expects significant cost savings in the future.”
“The nitrogen and phosphorous and whatever else was in the leachate would have still gone into the river. So, this is really also a water quality project helping to protect the fresh waters of North Carolina.”
He notes that estimated long term costs of this “partner” system versus conventional treatment will be quite a bit less, too.
At a rate, on average, of 650 tons of waste a day, it’s estimated that the entire landfill area will have another 25 to 30 years of life.
Once the landfill is closed it’s anticipated that it will be made into a park. A conventional treatment system doesn’t lend itself to this kind of conclusion due to costs, noise, and odors.
“We’ve been happy with our T-L pivot systems. There have been no problems at all with them unless you count count a tornado flipping one over,” Hawes says. “However, our dealer was quick to get here and get it running again.
“In fact,” he continues, “the reason we chose the T-L pivot over its competitors was the hydraulic design. We could also avoid most of the problems that electrically powered systems have with lightning strikes, a frequent occurrence at the landfill.”
“We plan to expand this concept as we close more current landfill sites. So,” Hawes says, “we’ll probably need at least two, maybe three more T-Ls. Once we get to that point we ought to be close to zero discharge into the river.”
Pantego, North Carolina
Center pivot irrigation is still relatively new to Maurice and C.E., Jr. (Buster) Manning, who operate Manning Farms with their sons, Neal, Trey and Zack, near Pantego, North Carolina. In fact, the three T-L pivots the family installed this past spring are not only the first to be used on the farm, but they’re also the first to be installed in the area. However, the Mannings are already looking at corn yield increases of 60 to 100 bushels this fall on their irrigated fields.
“We’re only about 80 miles from the outer banks, so we get around 52 to 55 inches of moisture a year,” Maurice admits. “But it can get pretty dry at times between May and the end of July. Of course, that’s when moisture is most critical.”
Although the center pivots only cover 360 acres on the 3,900-acre farm that produces corn, soybeans and wheat, the new T-L units are located in fields with soils that don’t typically hold soil moisture very well. One of the pivots, Maurice explains, covers 110 acres; another covers a 180-acre circle, and the third covers a half circle of 70 acres.
“A hundred years ago, most of our farm was considered swamp land until it was cleared in the early to mid-1900s,” says Maurice, noting that his grandfather first started farming the area in 1955. “As a result, most of our soils are fairly high in organic matter content. The fields where we put the center pivots, though, are made up of fractured clay subsoil with only about five percent organic matter. So it tends to dry out rather quickly.”
Manning says they did have irrigation on one 110-acre field prior to installation of the T-L systems, but it was a subsoil system that consisted of ditches that were flooded, allowing water to seep into the surrounding areas.
“We’re certainly getting better water control with the center pivots,” C. E. adds. “Plus, we’re only using about half as much water.”
Selecting the right system for their operation wasn’t an easy decision, though, as Maurice relates. “We probably researched center pivot systems for three years before we made a purchase,” he explains. “The center pivots that are relatively close to us are predominantly electrics,” he adds, noting that even those are nearly 30 miles away. “But we just liked the idea of the hydraulic drive. We never cared for the way the electrics started and stopped all the time. It looked like there was a lot of potential there for wear that way.”
“They certainly run a lot smoother, which is the thing we like most about the T-L units,” C. E. adds. “We feel like they should be a lot safer, too, since there’s no high voltage out on the pivots.”
The Mannings believe the installation of the pivots was particularly timely, considering this year’s weather.
“Our better fields will average over 150 bushels of corn per acre,” says Maurice. “And the whole-farm-average is around 138 bushels, which is pretty typical for this area.”
“The way we had it figured, we could probably gain around 60 bushels per acre with the pivots,” C. E. adds. “But we had some pretty hot, dry weather in June this year. And from looking at the fields, we’re thinking that yield difference will be closer to 100 bushels when you compare what we’re seeing on the ears to what those fields would have made without irrigation.”
Consequently, the Mannings are already looking at adding a T-L linear system on a long, narrow field.
“We’re also planning to experiment with continuous corn-on-corn under two of the pivots,” Maurice concludes. “The other one will be a wheat-double-crop soybeans and corn rotation, like we use on most of our other fields.”
The difference is that there are now 360 acres that are no longer at the mercy of North Carolina’s coastal weather.
Laurinburg, North Carolina
T-L pivot irrigation systems have many advantages but what makes the Carmichael brothers really keen about their T-Ls is what they don’t have: Copper wire, lots of copper wire that attracts thieves in the night like a bear to honey. Actually, the root of the problem, brothers Dave and Eddie explain, appears to be the all too prevalent drug culture supporting its needs, and, unfortunately, a goodly number of people in their area spend their night hours stripping copper wire from electric-drive center-pivot sprinklers. They sell the copper wire at $1 a pound, then buy their supply with the ill-gotten gains.. The Carmichaels farm 4,000 acres. And, while cotton is their big crop, they also produce corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, turnips, mustard, collards, and spinach on their Laurinburg, North Carolina, farm. They utilize conventional-till, strip-till, and no-till, depending on the situation. Eleven months ago they experienced their first “hit”, discovering that one of their electric systems had been divested of all its copper wiring. Replacement cost, (and they don’t carry such insurance), was approximately $1,000 a tower, including wire, labor, and damage to the control box. That was just the start of the problem, since more of their irrigation systems were hit, some repeatedly. “One time, for example,” Dave reports, we worked two days to replace the copper wire they’d stolen the night before. So, instead of doing all the other work we needed to do, such as ripping the cotton land and working on the planter, we had fix this important center-pivot.” This particular sprinkler was over spinach. The crop especially needed to receive irrigation, because the weather was so hot that the developing crop had to have water for both better yield and marketable quality. “We started the system up–and they stole the wire again that night while the system was running!” he adds. “Well, at least they were getting wet the whole time they were stealing the wire.” One possible solution was to make stealing the copper wire so difficult that the thieves wouldn’t put in the necessary effort. So, the Carmichaels banded the wire to the pipe. “Yes, that slowed them down,” Eddie recalls with a grimace. “So, what did they do? The hitched a chain between the wire and a pickup truck, and pulled the wire out. That would have been bad enough, but in the process they also dropped one tower and broke the pipe.” Next the brothers tried digging ditches around the field and putting up gates. They also invested in a pair of security guards. Finally, they installed satellite phones programmed to call them when any tampering took place so law enforcement could be alerted. However, by the time they arrived the thieves were always long gone “into the trees”. Frustration! Then the brothers learned there was one center-pivot system that didn’t depend on electric drives to operate: T-L. To date they have installed five T-Ls to accompany their 13 remaining electric units. “With a T-L we don’t have to worry about all the copper wire being stolen during the night,” Dave comments. “When we go to start up a T-L system, it starts!”
Like most North American farmers, James and Jason Yarbro are continually looking for ways they can increase crop production without adding more land to the operation. It’s not that they’re opposed to adding more acreage, particularly since their sons, Addison (James’s son) and Caleb (Jason’s son) have joined the operation full time.
But, as everyone knows, the more you can produce on a given investment, the greater the profit. That’s the main reason they’ve gone from zero acres under irrigation to 345 pivot-irrigated acres in just two years time. Based near Dukedom, Tennessee, Yarbro Farms already encompasses approximately 9,500 acres that is generally divided between corn and soybeans, with a little bit of wheat added to the mix.
“I think we’re all looking for ways we can produce more bushels per acre, no matter what the crop,” says James. “So we’re just trying to maximize our potential. Unfortunately, we have so many small fields, it’s hard to put a pivot on very many acres. It doesn’t help that a river snakes through part of the farm, cutting it into odd- shaped parcels.”
However, it appears that the five T-L center pivot units Yarbro Farms have already installed were put in just in time. Due to the severe drought across the Midwest in 2012, James says their dryland corn yielded anywhere from zero to 70 bushels per acre, while the corn under the pivots yielded around 200 bushels or better.
As James explains, the first pivot on the farm was installed prior to the 2011 growing season. The other four were just added this past spring, prior to the 2012 growing season.
“One of them currently covers about 100 acres, but can do 125, once we clear out some brush and timber,” James explains. “Two more cover about 72 acres each; but one of those could cover more, too, if we can make a deal with a neighboring farmer. The last two are both in the same field and cover about 100 acres combined,” he continues. “So we currently have just one that is making a full circle, but we hope to have two more making a full circle by next year.”
In the meantime, James says they continue to look at fields where they can add more T-L pivots in the coming years.
“Last year was a good year, which meant there wasn’t a lot of difference between our dryland corn and the irrigated corn,” Jason relates. “We had plenty of rainfall and averaged around 200 over the whole farm. However, we felt like the irrigated ground would have done even better had we not been almost a month late in getting it planted.
“That certainly hasn’t been the case this year,” he adds, noting that the pivots ran almost continually from early June through July 6. “Without irrigation, our total yields would be even worse than they are now.” One thing that has helped, the Yarbros believe, is the no-till program that they adopted on the majority of their acres to control erosion and conserve moisture. Over the past few years, the family has also increased their use of GPS-based technology … including variable-rate fertilizer, variable-rate lime applications and, most recently, variable-rate seeding.
“That is something irrigation has pushed us to do even more of,” Jason relates. “A significant portion of our corn is already variable-rate seeded based on soil type, contour, yield potential, etc. But we hope to be at 100 percent variable-rate in just a couple more years.
“We’re already using the variable-rate controller to plant a lower plant population on the corners and bumping it up where we’re under the pivots,” he adds. “Plus, we’ve implemented it on the fields with the greatest amount of variation. Now, we’re trying to expand it to the rest of the farm.
“One thing that’s helped is we’ve been working with a good friend who is an agronomist with Pioneer,” James adds. “He’s been running some pretty extensive tests — including some on our own farm — to learn how different varieties perform on different soil types in our area. So we’ve been using that as a parameter to overlay soil type maps with our yield maps to arrive at where we think we need to be.” Coincidentally, it was another friend who turned the Yarbros onto T-L pivots.
“Our John Deere dealer happens to be a dealer for a popular brand of electric pivots,” James adds. “But we just felt like the hydraulic drive was a superior system. As farmers, we’re also more comfortable with hydraulics than we are with electricity. We think they’ll take less maintenance and be more reliable in the long run,” he adds, noting that that has already been the case, even though the oldest system is only two years old.
“With our terrain, we also felt like the continuous movement of T-L’s hydraulic drive would be better suited to our application,” Jason adds. “The fields where we have pivots aren’t that steep, but we do have a lot of rolling terrain and we just liked the idea that the pivots aren’t stopping and starting every few feet.”
The challenge now will be financing one or two more T-L units following a year of drought and poor crop production. However, considering the yields on fields without irrigation this past season, the Yarbros wonder if they can afford not to put more fields under a pivot. It seems that their plan for boosting yields has suddenly turned into crop insurance.
Branchville, South Carolina
Although his annual rainfall is in theory more than adequate to produce good crops, the problem is that it doesn’t always arrive when needed. And, some years are just simply dry, according to Harry Wimberly.
His 1,500-acre Wimco Farms is near Branchville, South Carolina. Just as soon as he could acquire enough land in one plot with space enough to install a center pivot, he bought a T-L system four years ago.
“Since then, my irrigated corn has averaged yielding 100 bushels more an acre than my dryland corn,” Wimberly reports. “If my dryland corn makes 50 bushels an acre, my irrigated corn will yield 150. If the dryland averages 100 bushels, the irrigated corn will make 200 bushels an acre.
“The advantages of irrigation are so obvious,” he adds. “It’s as different as day and night where the T-L’s water stops.”
The year his T-L was making its fi rst circles was really dry. Yet the yield under it was so much better than his other corn, without supplemental irrigation, that Wimberly fi gures his center-pivot paid for itself in just its fi rst season.
In addition to the center-pivot’s 100 acre coverage, he next installed an 85 acre T-L lateral system. With dual end guns it waters a narrow fi eld that’s 6,400 feet long and 740-foot wide and that exhibits a defi nite curve.
“I was amazed, but this lateral will walk around the corner. Keep the furrow cleaned out and it will go wherever I want it to go. In fact,” Wimberly smiles, “I think it would go around the world if it just had a track to follow.”
What first appealed to him about T-Ls was that, “They’re the simplest piece of equipment that I could possibly run. Everything runs off one diesel engine, so I don’t have to worry about electric motors, shorts, or lightning storms, or only rarely getting out line.”
On the other hand, Wimberly points out that the worst that can happen with a T-L is to have a hydraulic line break. He hasn’t had that problem yet.
He says if he does it will be a whole lot easier to spot an oil leak than to attempt to trace an electrical short. He emphasizes, “Simplicity. I’ll say that word again: A T-L is just a simple machine to operate.”
This also means, he says, that T-L’s are so easy to run that he can send almost anybody down to either of his units to push the button that cranks up an engine and immediately start irrigating.
“One of my neighbors runs all different brands of sprinklers,” Wimberly comments. “However, since he’s seen the T-Ls work, I think we’ve got him converted.”
His farming philosophy is: 1. If you have a field big enough to install a center pivot, do it. 2. Make that center pivot system a T-L.
“We’re all out here to make a profit, since without profit we wouldn’t stay in business,” Wimberly says. “But, there’s also that feeling of accomplishing something, the pride of self achievement. That’s another benefit of having an irrigation system that just makes farming a little more pleasurable.”
Talk about varied center pivot experience! Pinckney Thompson operates 20 systems of four different brands, covering from 47 to 300 acres that were installed between 1978 and 2001.
Half of his 5,000 acres at Vance, South Carolina, are irrigated. According to Thompson, it’s because, “It’s like life or death, whether you stay in business or not. For any kind of consistency we have to irrigate.”
And yes, the last two pivots set up were T-L towables for several reasons. First, it was more economical to drill one well and run multiple sites, thus spreading out the cost of the well and pump. Second, his neighbors who had towable center pivots of other brands always told him how difficult they were to move.
Thanks to diesel engines, the T-Ls helped the budget since he didn’t have to run any wire. And, Thompson says he and two men can move a T-L from circle to circle in just 40 minutes.
This year, for example, the T-Ls were in corn fi rst, then towed over to water herbicide in peanuts, then it was back to irrigate corn until mature, and finally to the peanut field again.
Basically, according to Thompson, he’s getting the equivalent of two center pivots for the price of one.
“I had aerial photographs taken of all my center pivot fields two years ago,” Thompson reports. “I could see a difference between corn under our continuous movement T-Ls and corn under the stop start electric center-pivots. The corn was just more uniform in the T-L circles.
“Usually better uniformity results in higher yields,” he adds. “I don’t know if I can pinpoint an exact yield advantage for the T-Ls, but I estimate it would be another five to six bushels an acre.”
Thompson says that, “My other 18 center pivots operate on 480 volts. The employees and I respect that, but when it’s not there, like on the T-Ls, it makes working much nicer. Also, with every lightning storm I just cross my fingers that I won’t have to replace a bunch of wires.”
In the last three years he’s had to replace wiring, up to two miles long in some instances, vital to his various electric units–at a cost of $30,000.
That, of course, will never be a future expense for his T-Ls. So far, in three years Thompson says he’s spent less than $50 on both systems.
In his shop, Thompson stockpiles a pallet of gearboxes for his electric systems. On hand for his T-Ls: One five gallon bucket of oil.
The first start up in the spring also differs between the electrics and his T-Ls. As he says, “Due to dirt daubers or water condensation, we usually spend the next three weeks fixing the electric systems. With the T-Ls, though, all we’re dealing with is a diesel engine turning a hydraulic pump. We just fire them up and let them run.”
As for the economics of irrigation itself, Thompson says that he can usually make the payment on an irrigation system and still have as much money left over as he would from a decent dryland year.