While T-L Irrigation can list a number of converts from electric pivots among its customer ranks, even Boswell admits that most don’t change their mind quite as fast as he did. “We had an unusual number of problems with electrical issues that turned out to be really frustrating,” he admits. “Unfortunately, it took nearly three years to find the problem. It turned out that when they put up the pivot, they didn’t get one of the electrical connections tightened on the reversing switch, so every once in a while, it was arcing and blowing fuses.
They’d put in a new fuse and sometimes it would run two weeks and other times it would run the rest of the season. By that time, though, I had had enough of electric pivots.” Even today, after the error has been corrected, Boswell says he has more service calls on his one electric pivot than all his T-L units combined.
To put that into even greater perspective, Boswell says all but the first two T-L pivots he purchased have been used machines that he has bought from local dealers. “The oldest one is a 1976 model and the newest is a 1984 model,” he says. “So I’m not afraid to buy a used pivot. However, when I do buy a used one, T-L is the only one I’ll buy, because they’re so easy to troubleshoot and learn what, if anything, is wrong with them. “T-L pivots are so simple to work on that I can do most of the work on them myself,” he continues. “In fact, two of my T-L pivots are from the 1976 model 10-tower unit that I had updated and split into two five-tower pivots.”
Boswell says 1976 was also the first year he started farming on his own after renting a full section of ground. Once his dad retired from farming in 1988, he took over most of the family farm, as well, adding pivots to the majority of the farm over the past 20 years. His most recent purchases, he explains, have been corner arms that have been added to two existing pivots. One was a new corner arm, while the other was a used arm that came off of a pivot that had been flipped by a windstorm, leaving the corner arm as the only usable piece. “Both are GPS-guided,” he explains. “I went with GPS on the new one because it’s on a rented farm where I didn’t want to have to bury wire.
The other runs beneath a high-voltage power line, which could have interfered with the electrical signal. “I do rely on the T-L dealers to deliver and set up any pivot I’ve purchased from them,” Boswell explains. “And about every other year, I’ll have them come out and inspect each of the units. But that’s about the only service call I ever need with the T-L units. I’ve done everything from repairing leaks to changing a motor myself.”
In the meantime, Boswell often uses the time he saves by traveling around the state and to Washington, D.C. as state president of the Nebraska Soybean Association. “The state association works closely with the American Soybean Association, so we work with producers from throughout the country,” he explains. “It’s strictly a volunteer job, so the only monetary return is reimbursement for expenses,” he adds, noting that his wife is also on the Nebraska Farm Bureau state board of directors. “But you learn so much from other farmers through the networking that’s involved. Plus, I’ve often become aware of legislation and regulations that are coming out in the future and been able to apply that to my own farming operation so I’m more prepared when it occurs.” Boswell doesn’t have to compare notes with other farmers or see what works in other parts of the country, though, to know that hydraulically driven pivots are the way to go on his farm. He learned that 22 years ago in just one season.
Clay Center, Nebraska
“Irrigated agriculture is the backbone of the economy in our state. Water is the number one driving force of the economy in agriculture,” Dr. Suat Irmak, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska, points out.
He believes there are two “cutting edge” or critical irrigation areas that must be explored — and the sooner the better considering generally diminishing water supplies over much of the country.
The first is what he terms “deficit or limited irrigation practices”. This is the foundation of some of his current research. Crop coefficients over the last 30 years have been developed to determine crop water requirements for full irrigation settings with no water stress.
“However, when you go to deficit or limited irrigation, many things change,” Dr. Irmak says. “So, we need to develop new crop coefficients for deficit irrigation.”
In addition to potentially saving valuable water, such diminished irrigation could also be an important factor in paring the costs of progressively expensive fuel or electricity for pumping.
He says the second critical area is finding the right hybrids. In this case, these are the hybrids that can produce higher yields on less than the water ideally supplied by full irrigation.
After two years of preliminary research using subsurface drip irrigation, Dr. Irmak began a three-year project using the region’s much more common centerpivot irrigation.
A new T-L Irrigation center-pivot system was installed at the South Central Ag Lab, Clay Center, Nebraska, to irrigate a 40-acre circle containing 48 plots, each of .8 acres.
Note that the color plot diagram (right) shows three replications of four different levels of weekly irrigation except when rainfall exceeded the irrigation requirement as determined by evapotranspiration values. Soil water status was monitored by two different systems in numerous locations, one twice a week and one hourly.
The “full” irrigation rate of 9.5 inches of supplemental water in addition to rainfall served as the benchmark against which the other three were measured: 75 percent of the “full” rate, 60 percent and 50 percent. In addition, there were dryland tests at the corners that received only natural rainfall.
The T-L system was set to provide with each rotation in the various plots, for example: 1.16-inch for “full” irrigation, .87-inch for 75 percent, .70-inch for 60 percent and .58-inch for 50 percent for an irrigation event.
In each of the 48 plots, plus dryland areas, seven hybrids were planted to determine which hybrids could produce the most prof i table yields under a limited irrigation program that saved both water and pumping costs.
Also, the crop coefficients are being determined for these hybrids to assess whether crop coefficients show variations with hybrids.
According to Dr. Irmak, “We learned that hybrid selection is a critical factor to make maximum use of irrigation water under water-limiting conditions.”
The 2006 growing season was relatively wet, although it was extremely dry until mid-August. An interesting point: Even the 50 percent corn receiving just 4.7 inches of irrigation water still yielded more than 210 bushels an acre — roughly twice that of the dryland yields.
Yields increased linearly to approximately 200 bushels an acre at which diminishing returns started. This effectively illustrated that the return per inch of water applied was much less in the 200- to 250-bushel range as compared to the initial stage of the production function.
“I think the bottom line is that with good irrigation management, coupled with good soil and crop management practices, high yields can be maintained with limited irrigation,” Dr. Irmak sums up.
“In other words, this achieves the objective of harvesting more bushels per gallon of irrigation water!”
Water Saving Suggestion
“Monitoring soil moisture or crop water use is extremely critical, repeat extremely critical,” Dr. Irmak cautions. “A producer could possibly save a tremendous amount of water just by monitoring soil moisture.”
Mike 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.
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.