Testimonials

Samuel P. Hawes IV

Wilmington, North Carolina

samulphawes_fullSamuel 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.”

Rod Ronspies

Osmond, Nebraska

ron_ronspies_lrgAt 66 years of age, Rod Ronspies doesn’t have grand ambitions of expanding the size of his farm or owning the newest and biggest equipment. Instead, he prefers to wisely manage what he has, including the 1,100 acres of rolling farmland he owns near Osmond, Nebraska. Plus, it leaves him more time to enjoy a variety of hobbies that include motorcycles, airplanes and antique tractors.

“I’m not one to farm fencerow to fencerow,” he says. “I’d rather plant trees and grass for the wildlife and preserve the land for a future generation. They left it in good shape for me, so I want to leave it that way for the next person.”

“I love trees, though” he insists. “I plant about 800 of them every other year. I’ve got them on the field edges, pivot corners, waterways and about anywhere else I can put them. I want the wildlife to be happy,” he relates.

That doesn’t mean that Ronspies isn’t serious about farming, though. In the six decades he has lived on the family farm, he has seen yields nearly double and the farm’s acreage grow by more 800 acres.

“I’ve been on this farm since 1942 when Dad bought the first 240 acres from an insurance company,” he says. “Back then, it was all dryland farming with a rotation of corn, soybeans and oats, and we were lucky to see corn yields top 90 to 100 bushels.”

Today, the farm is equally divided between corn and soybeans that is irrigated by a total of five center-pivot irrigation systems.

“We installed the first center pivot systems in 1974,” he says, noting that at least 70 percent of the farmland in his area is now irrigated. “Almost immediately, we saw yields climb to around 135 bushels per acre … and we thought that was really good. Now, with new technology in herbicides, plant breeding and equipment, we’ve seen corn yields climb to 190 to 220 bushels and beans yield 50 to 60 bushels per acre on average.”

In the meantime, Ronspies has also changed the way he markets crops, having forward contracted his 2008 harvest for as much as $7 per bushel on corn, with soybeans going for even more.

To improve efficiency and enhance weed control, he has also added Roundup Ready(R) corn to the Roundup Ready soybeans he has planted for the past 10 to 12 years. He even owns two older Gleaner(R) rotary combines that are individually fitted with corn and bean heads so he doesn’t have to switch headers.

“At my age, I like for things to be easy,” he says. “But I like for them to be environmentally friendly, too. That’s one reason I’ve even gone to splitting my fertilizer applications. By putting part of it on when I plant and knifing the rest in as sidedress fertilizer, I’m able to keep almost all of it on top where the plant can use it. The NRD shows that our well samples are almost as clean as bottled water.” Ronspies might also be quick to add T-L center-pivot irrigation systems to his easy, yet environmentally friendly list.

Ronspies purchased his first T-L unit in 2005 when one of his original pivots succumbed to rust.

“I just love my T-L because it’s so maintenance-free,” he adds. “The other selling point for me is that there are very few electrical components and nothing to get electrocuted by … and that does happen to a few people each year,” he adds. “In the next three to five years, I expect to replace all the electric units with T-L systems, even though I have electric motors on the wells. There’s just nothing else like that hydraulic drive, especially when you’re looking at $80 an hour or more to have an electrician come out to the farm to fix an electric-drive unit.

“At my age, I’ve got better things to do than take care of electric pivots, and a lot more things I’d rather invest in than parts and labor.”

Ryan Weeks

Juniata, Nebraska

ryan_weeksWhen he explains why he prefers a T-L center-pivot, Ryan Weeks taps his fingers as he observes, “A T-L never quits moving.”

“In the first place,” he continues, “except for a silage guy running into one of the towers, all of our T-Ls have been pretty trouble-free. We’ve never replaced a gearbox or even had an oil leak. We’ve never had a problem yet with a T-L.”

“All we do is run them through the maintenance program every year. They’re great.”

This includes a T-L unit initially installed 30 years ago. Since then it’s run 650 to 1,200 hours every summer. Although it was designed as a high pressure system, Weeks says it’s now operated at a medium pressure.

Figuring an average of 800 hours a year, he estimates that this particular T-L has operated at least 24,000 hours; and it is still waiting for its first major repair.

Altogether, Ryan and his father, Mike, farm 2,400 acres near Juniata, Nebraska, which is divided among no-till dry land, ridge-till gravity irrigation fields, and a combination of ridge-till and no-till under the center-pivots. The men operate six pivots, three T-Ls and three non-owned electric systems. Field-wide, their irrigated corn generally produces more than 200 bushels an acre.

“One of the best things about a T-L unit is if I ever need to work on one, I could do it myself,” Weeks continues. “If we’d need a part we’d have it within 24 to 36 hours, too. T-Ls are simple. Most farmers understand hydraulics, since almost every piece of equipment they use has hydraulics. I wouldn’t have to call an electrician.”

In contrast, he points to a breakdown on one of the electric sprinklers last spring. The first dealer the Weeks called said he could be on the farm in maybe five days. The second dealer in the area thought he could possibly be there in three days.

“This is the biggest problem we have with the electric units, that and I’m just nervous around electricity. With a T-L the worry factor is gone.”

He says that when they hear a whine coming from an electric center-pivot, they know they’re soon going to have to be doing some mosquito-fraught replacement work.

Another way to look at, “It never quits moving,” according to Weeks, is that the corn grown under T-L irrigation this past summer looked “100 percent better” than corn under the electric centerpivots.

“On one farm in particular, we could see the difference in sprinkler packages and the advantage of the T-L’s continuous movement,” he relates. “Some of this we could attribute partly to management changes, but a lot of it was due to a more uniform water application, because the T-L never stops.”

As for comparing a center-pivot system to gravity irrigation, Weeks emphasizes that there’s really no comparison. The center-pivots, he says, represent “a lot less work, more efficiency and less sweating.”

Meanwhile, Ryan and his father are convinced that today’s farmers must be stewards of their resources, especially in an area of declining water tables.

Their experience has been that a center-pivot system uses half the water and half the fuel that is required to cover the same number of acres by gravity irrigation, thinking that might be a conservative estimate, too.

They believe the old “Time is money” saying applies to center-pivot superiority quite well, Weeks also equates the effort saved to precious additional time with the family, getting more things done and the capability to take on more acres.

He’s also noted the many technological advances made in T-L systems as time has gone on, commenting that, “There’s been so much done with end guns, booster pumps and drops. Everything is just all-around better.”

“I like the fact that T-L’s owners were and are still farmers,” he smiles. “Anybody can invent something. But, until there’s a practical application you don’t know it’s going to work.”

“The T-L people put their products on their own farms and they try to make sure an idea is going to work before it goes to anybody else. If they trust it on their own farms, we’ll trust it on ours.”

GPS is just one of the modern “tools” used on the Weeks’ farm. As Ryan points out, “We’ve invested in technology.”

This consists of using variablerate seeding with their corn planter for the past three years; utilizing a yield monitor and its mapping ability on their combine, then writing “prescriptions” for their dealer to apply variable-rate fertilizer that contains many micronutrients.

Ryan is a member of the Nebraska Leadership Education/Action Program (LEAD), a select group of farmers dedicated to developing a network of highly motivated leaders for agriculture.

John Rohrs

McGuffey, Ohio

john_rohrsFor 15 years the Rohrs Brothers, of McGuffey, Ohio, depended on a travel gun to prevent their carrot crop from drying out. Two factors, however, caused them switch to a T-L center-pivot three years ago.

According to John Rohrs, “One, our carrot acreage of large carrots for dicing expanded — and two, it never failed that our traveling gun always needed to be moved in the middle of the night! It was time to find a better solution.”

Their T-L machine made only two circles that first year due to adequate rainfall. Regardless, Rohrs says, “This was enough to justify the cost of the pivot for that year.”

But, it was this past summer, the driest since 1988, that really convinced them their purchase decision was right. They seldom shut down their T-L for more than a week at a time.

“When we started digging July 25, our carrots under the T-L were four tons an acre better than those outside the circle,” he continues. “Within the next two weeks we were at more than 25 total tons an acre, which is pretty hard to do with 90 degree and higher heat. When we pulled out August 18 the yield was more than 30 tons per acre, and we’ll be back into them again.

“The amount of tons we’re taking off the field is just phenomenal! We’ve more than justified the entire pivot on this one year’s production alone. We’ll probably be putting in at least one more T-L here soon, and a couple more in the next two or three years.”

John believes that their T-L’s continuous movement and even water distribution contributed to these yields, because he never saw any of the “spoking” that start-stop electric pivots can cause.

Rohrs comments that he initially steered toward a T-L due to its simplicity, with fewer moving parts and greater reliability. Plus he didn’t want anything to do with electricity.

“It’s a headache to try to find electrical problems,” he says. “But, we have a lot of things on the farm that deal with hydraulics, which can be fixed pretty simply. It just seems to me that there’s a lot more reliability with hydraulic systems than with electric systems.”

If they have experienced any problem with their T-L it’s in remembering to make sure the fuel tank on the engine is kept full, Rohrs mentions, tongue-in-cheek.

He says running the T-L is only a matter of starting it up, setting the water and safeties, then, “You go home and forget about it.” John admits that when their T-L was new he got up at 2 a.m. for the first several nights to check it. He soon learned that a drive-by check afterbreakfast and before dark were more than adequate.

“This is important, because I don’t have enough time now to go out and continually monitor the irrigation unit,” he says. “Our T-L just keeps going ’round and ’round. We don’t have to move any pipe, either.”

Their T-L’s upkeep cost has been only $200 to $300 a year. This includes replacing one ball valve on a hydraulic jack and upgrading to one-way, 180 degree nozzles at the towers to keep water off them. Rohrs points out that, “We don’t need many spare T-L parts around.”

They’ve also noticed their drop sprinklers are getting the water down closer to the crop, providing a “soft, misty” water flow. Water isn’t visible on top of the ground when finished as they’d seen when using the traveling gun, even with applications up to an inch-and-a-half.

The Rohrs particularly appreciate the towable feature of their T-L. From start to stop Rohrs and only one other man can move it from one quarter-section to another in just an hour-and-a-half to two hours, start to finish

“When people ask us what we think of our T-L,” Rohrs remarks, “I like to sum it up by saying, ‘It’s proven and it’s reliable’.”

Rohrs Brothers is a family partnership of John, Tony, Andrew, and Jason Rohrs. They farm several thousand acres in two locations 50 miles apart.

In addition to the usual corn and soybeans, they grow 750 to 800 acres of carrots and tomatoes annually. Their vegetable enterprise was started by their father in the late 1950s. Much of their tomato crop goes to Red Gold for salsa and catsup. Their carrots are sold to companies in eight states.

While the traditional rowcrops fluctuate in price quite a bit, their vegetables are grown on contract at a set price, thus their profit is solely determined by tons produced.

Mike Kamler

Shickley, Nebraska

mike_kamlerMike Kamler, of Shickley, Nebraska, replaced gravity irrigation with ten electric enter-pivots in 1974. In 2001 he bought his first T-L system, and since then has added four more, all T-Ls. All feature drop nozzles with rotators irrigating mostly corn.

That first T-L has now run for seven seasons and 4,300 hours. The other three T-Ls each rack up 250 to 750 hours annually. Yet he’s never called his dealer to exclaim, “A pivot’s down! Hurry out!”

“I’d like to say my T-L dealer’s service is second to none, but I can’t,” Kamler comments with a twinkle. “That’s because in seven years I haven’t had a service call! The only problem I’ve had is when a cow rubbed against a pipe and broke it.”

All four T-Ls have planetary gear boxes. He’s found this to be worth the extra investment over worm gears, since he anticipates being able to run them 20 to 30 years without experiencing the gear box problems typical of electric systems. The galvanizing is also quite good, he thinks, and should result in long, rust-free lives.

Service maintenance has consisted solely of checking for grease in the fall, changing the filter and pumping air into the tires both spring and fall. He’s experienced no water issues.

The time needed to routinely service one of Kamler’s T-Ls averages an hour to an hour-and-a-half. For each electric unit, however, the time required is more like two-and-a-half to three hours.

He’s certain he can “Definitely!” see more uniformity in his T-L-irrigated fields due to the systems continuous movement. A few minutes spent up on an electric system’s tower while his son was at the pivot point doing the moving further convinced him.

“Its instantaneous jerk when it kicked into gear almost threw me off,” he says. “Also, there are going to be streaks in the field where an electric center-pivot stops and starts. I’m sure this affects yields. How much, I don’t know. But, whatever has a positive influence on yields puts more bushels in my bin.”

As for working on his electrics, Kamler explains that while he’s fairly comfortable around the high voltage electricity, it scares him. With 480 volts, all it would take is one slip, he cautions.

There’s an unusual developing downside for electric center-pivots in his area, too. Due to the present high price of copper, thieves are coming in and making off with the copper wiring.

“Combining T-L’s simplicity and reliability with a good dealer, I am confident about my T-L center-pivots. I just go out and start ’em and run ’em. I don’t have to work on ’em. My T-Ls put money in my back pocket, I believe, because they need fewer repairs and less maintenance.

“Of course,” he admits, “no matter how good a machine is, some day it’s going to break down. That’s why it’s so important to have a good dealer, like mine, behind me.

“T-Ls are just so much better! Simpler and more reliable with low maintenance,” Kamler sums up, “for the same amount of money as electric, I just don’t see why you wouldn’t buy a T-L.”

Corner systems pay off
Kamler utilizes one T-L corner system on his landlord’s farm. His landlord was about fed up with corner systems at one point, though. That’s because the electric corner system on an electric center-pivot went down three times, the last time “falling like a dinosaur and just lying there”.

Then he decided to replace his electric with a T-L, including a corner system. The result: “It has probably 3,500 hours on it, and the unit has just been flawless,” says Kamler.

And, yes, at first glance a corner system might seem tough to justify, since it may cost an extra $1,200 an acre for each corner acre covered. Yet to purchase irrigated cropland in the area would require three times that much investment.

As Kamler explains, dry-land corn can produce anywhere from zero to 140 bushels an acre, depending on rainfall. Over the years, he figures, on an average, to have made 50 bushels an acre on his dry-land. With corn at $3.30 a bushels, that’s a gross of $165 an acre.

However, an irrigated corn average on his farm will be 200 to 220 bushels an acre. Call it 210 bushels, and that’s a gross of $693 an acre — making paying off the additional initial investment of a corner system a rather short-term thing.

Likes ridge-till
Saying there’s a pretty fine line between ridge-till and no-till, Kamler points out that he prefers working with ridges for several reasons: Water drains off of low spots better, the soil seems to warm up quicker in the spring, water has a place to go after a heavy rain, and if the corn goes down for some reason, it’s easier to get the picker snouts under it.

Bo Stone

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.”

 

                                                         

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8K5YydRMmQ

Von Mohler

Sidney, Ohio

von-mohlerEven though irrigation is still somewhat rare in western Ohio, Von and Curt Mohler, who operate Triple M Farms near Piqua, Ohio, discovered long ago that irrigation pays for itself — even if average annual rainfall is not the issue.

“Years ago, around the late ’70s, Dad started irrigating with a traveling gun,” Curt relates. “So we knew there was an advantage to being able to add supplemental water when the corn we feed in our beef operation needed it the most. We just had to wait until the commodity prices justified adding the center pivot units.”

To that end, the three- generation family, which includes Von’s dad, Lowell, purchased their first T-L pivot — a six-tower towable unit — in 2008. The following year, they added four more and this past summer they added a sixth T-L.

“Three of them are six-tower units that are 900 to 1,000 feet long,” Curt explains, noting that they chose center pivot irrigation over traveling guns due to the reduced amount of labor. “We also have a four- tower model, a two-tower model and one single-tower pivot on a small gravel knob. Of course, we still use the towable unit on two different fields, which contributes to a total of about 320 acres under irrigation. If we can find enough water, we plan to add two more T-L units next year.”

Although the Mohlers initially selected T-L units for the hydraulic drive, which they envisioned as more reliable, they’ve since come to appreciate T-L’s many other benefits.

“I just never cared for thewhole idea of water and electricity,” Curt relates. “Plus, T-L just looked like it’d require a lot less maintenance, since it didn’t have all the switches, the electric motors on the towers, etc.

“Once we started running them, though, we’ve found even more things we like about T-L pivots,” Von adds. “They just operate so smooth and there’s notalotyouhavetodotokeep them running. You just flip the switch and they go. In four years, we’ve never had a unit down for more than a day.”

Von says three of the pivots are supplied by spring-fed ponds, while the rest are tied into wells. On the other hand, the Mohlers don’t typically put on a lot of water. In most years, just five inches during the season is enough to boost corn yields substantially above the 150 to 160 bushels per acre they get without irrigation. However, due to the dry weather this past season, Von says their 2012 application was closer to seven or eight inches.

“We pumped a little heavier early in the season,” he recalls. “But we were fortunate to get some of the rains later that seemed to miss everyone else.”

Unlike other producers in the area, though, the Mohlers keep all the corn they produce on the farm to annually feed out nearly 1,000 head of steers housed in covered, open-air barns. Of the 1,500 acres the family farms, nearly two-thirds is planted to corn. Another 120 acres or so is in wheat, which provides a cover crop and the opportunity to apply manure on the crop stubble. The remaining acreage is planted to soybeans as a cash crop.

“While most of the corn is harvested and fed as grain, we cut about 50 acres each year as silage and another 90 acres as snaplage, or ear corn silage,” Curt relates. “We started doing snaplage about three years ago and all of it is under irrigation,” he adds, explaining that snaplage consists of the kernels, cob and parts of the husk and shank harvested at around 34 to 36 percent with a corn head and kernel processor. “So I really don’t have a yield comparison on dryland acres. I do know that with irrigation, we not only get more corn, but bigger cobs, which means more ear silage.”

The pivots also provide the Mohlers with a way to apply nitrogen later in the season. Consequently, their fertility program on corn consists of applying pre-plant anhydrous ammonia, strip-tilling the fields prior to planting, sidedressing the crop when the corn is about knee high and applying a last shot of liquid nitrogen through the pivots a few weeks later.

“Although I don’t have any experience with electric pivots, the lack of any spoking effect is another thing I like about the T-L pivots,” Curt concludes. “We may be unique in the area when it comes to irrigation and enclosed beef production, but both systems have proven invaluable.”

Wayne and Curtis Beck

Dodge, Nebraska

With nearly 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans under T-L Irrigation pivots, Wayne Beck and his son, Curtis, are surely among T-L Irrigation’s best customers. That’s especially true when you consider Wayne has a history with T-L that goes back to 1956, when his dad drilled his first well and started using hand-moved 40-foot T-L aluminum pipe with sprinkler heads.

The irony is that the quarter- mile-long T-L tow lines the family bought in the early 1960s to replace the hand lines were the last T-L products the Becks ever purchased new. Even though they now own 13 T-L center pivots, all those units were purchased used and refurbished by Wayne and his dad, Harold, or, later, by Wayne and Curtis.

“The pull lines were so much easier to move than the hand move lines we used when I was a kid,” says Wayne. “Of course, the first center pivot units were even easier than the pull lines,” he adds, noting that they purchased their first pivot in 1977. “The move from hand lines to tow lines and, finally, center pivots also let us go from 38- and 40-inch rows to 30-inch rows.”

“Our first T-L pivot was a used 13-tower, chain-drive unit that I saw advertised in the Omaha newspaper,” Wayne recalls. “It was a 1973 model that came from what used to be Traudt Irrigation in Sutton, Nebraska (now Sutton Irrigation), and it had been used on a 160-acre field near Giltner.”

“Ernie has been gone several years now, but I still owe a lot of credit to Ernie Traudt for getting us started,” he insists. “He asked us how we planned to use the pivot and we told him we wanted to make two 40- acre pivots out of it. His answer was, ‘Well, I’ve got a pivot point and hydraulic pump you can use for that second one.’ So that’s how Dad and I got started with T-L center pivots.”

With the experience they gained from that first one, Beck says he and his dad, who has since passed, began buying, moving and building even more T-L units. In fact, he says that it got to the point they could dismantle a 10-tower T-L unit to the point it could be transported in as little as three days.

“For a couple years there, Dad and I were bringing home two pivots each winter,” Wayne continues. “Most of those were still chain-drive units that farmers had traded in for the new planetary drive machines. Of course, we understood hydraulics and even chain-drive machines were an improvement on what we had.”

Today, Wayne and Curtis continue to buy and refurbish used T-L pivots. While a few newer planetary drive machines have been used to replace old chain-drive units, the majority have been installed on land they’ve added over the years. One year, they even went so far as to turn a 13-tower unit into an 18-tower model, using parts they had on hand from other used models.

“We still have three old T-L units that are chain driven,” says Curtis. “However, the rest have either been converted to planetary drive models or replaced altogether. To convert the chain-drive units, we have to cut off some of the old drive system, then weld on new brackets for the planetary drive pumps and add the tubing,” he adds. “But we’ve been able to convert several of them without too many problems.”

Beck says the most recent purchase was a T-L pivot that was installed on 200 acres that the family purchased in 2007. As a result, every acre that the family farms, except for the corners, is now under pivot irrigation, providing corn yields that have continually averaged over 200 bushels per acre.

“With the planetary drives and worm drives that T-L puts on the new units, about all you have to do is go out there and check the grease in the gearboxes and check the air in the tires,” Wayne says. “I have replaced the seals and rebuilt the planetary drives in a few units,” he adds. “But even that has been minor, compared to the amount of work electric units require. It’s not that I don’t know how to work with electricity, because we’re all electric on our wells. But I’d much prefer working with hydraulics and having an electric circuit that I can test with something as simple as a light bulb if necessary.”

Beck says he also prefers the continuous movement of T-L pivots and the lack of micro- switches that can go bad after a few years.

“You don’t have any of that ‘herky, jerky’ movement as it moves through the field,” he grins. “And I think you have to consider the torque it requires to re-start every time it stops on some of these hills.”

“I know there are guys who prefer electric pivots who will say, ‘Well, at least I don’t get my hands dirty working on the pivot’,” he concludes. “I guess my answer would be, ‘I don’t profess to wear a white shirt when I’m working on equipment’. The important thing is T-L pivots are just plain reliable. And even when they do need some work, they’re easier to repair and they’re simple to operate.”

 

                                                         

The Mannings

Pantego, North Carolina

mannings_featured-300x168Center 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.”

“T-Ls 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.

Dave Carmichael

Laurinburg, North Carolina

Dave_Carmichael_featured-300x157T-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.

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!”

Bo Stone

Rowland, North Carolina

bo-stone-300x198Even 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,we were a tobacco 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.”