Ethan Stults


Stults Farms irrigation view

Steve Rogers

Glendale, Ky

Seven Springs Farms

Wallonia, KY

There’s No Second Chance To Make The Right Decision.  A strong work ethic, communication and reliable partnerships have spawned rapid growth on this Kentucky farm.

Founded just 21 years ago, Seven Springs Farms, based near Cadiz, Kentucky, has one simple business philosophy. That is, “You never get a second chance to make the right decision”. Obviously, that approach has served the company well since its beginning in 1994 as a spinoff to a farm equipment repair business and custom farming operation. Today, Seven Springs Farms, which derives its name from a group of springs located near the home farm, owns and leases approximately 34,000 acres of farmland in four counties. The operation also includes around 10,000 head of feeder cattle, a local restaurant and a wedding event center. For the majority of the acres, the crop rotation consists of corn followed by wheat and soybeans — the latter being double-cropped behind wheat after harvest — yielding three crops in two years. However, like many Kentucky farms, they also raise a small amount of dark tobacco.

“We only plant wheat on the well-drained fields, though,” says Joe Nichols, managing partner in Seven Springs Farms. “I feel like one of the keys to our success is that we always remain flexible,” he adds. “We may decide to plant something different at the last minute based on price. In fact, we even went so far one year as to double-crop corn behind wheat, instead of planting soybeans. And it worked out pretty well. “At the same time, we always analyze a situation to determine the correct decision the first time,” he insists. “You often don’t get a second chance.”

That’s part of the reason Nichols and his partners began installing T-L center pivots on the farm in 2009. They had looked at other options, but ultimately decided, based on their mechanical background in equipment repair, that they already knew enough about hydraulics to do much of their own service. “To me, it was a ‘no brainer’,” Nichols adds. “They’re virtually foolproof. Plus, I’m not going to be the one to stand in water with 480 volts. That means we would have to hire an electrician every time we need service.” Nichols says they have discovered that it’s also a “no brainer” to add T-L pivots wherever they can. Since installing the first two units in 2009, they’ve seen an average of 30 to 40 bushels per acre increase on corn and as much as a 20-bushelper- acre increase in soybeans. In addition, most of the corn they now plant under the pivots is a white variety that has been in higher demand for export to South America and Mexico.

“The best time to have an irrigation system is when you don’t need it,” he adds. “In 2013, we didn’t see any increase in corn yields with the pivots. However, in 2012, when we had a severe drought through the summer, we saw a 110-bushel difference between irrigated fields and dryland fields.” Consequently, Seven Springs Farms has been installing pivots everywhere they can find a way to do it. Counting the three more pivots that went in earlier this year, the farm total is now up to 24 units.

“From where we were in 2009, we’ve learned a lot about irrigation,” admits Micheal Oliver, partner and farm manager. “Every field where we have put a pivot has its own problems. As a result, we’ve put in wiper systems, run pivots through shallow ponds and built bridges across creeks and sinkholes.” In the meantime, they’ve found numerous ways of supplying water to the pivots, including drilling wells, pumping out of nearby creeks using a patented River Screen siphon, and building ponds or lakes to serve as water reservoirs when nearby wells are inadequate by themselves. “That’s another reason we continue to rely on R & K Pivots in Russellville, KY for T-L units,” Nichols relates. “Ken (Moore) is used to dealing with unorthodox ways to get water to a pivot and to the crop. We’ve done some pivot mapping and installation ourselves, but we’ve found that it is a better investment to pay him than to use our time.”

If there’s one more secret to their success, besides making the right decision the first time, Nichols says it’s hiring the best people he can find and dealing with the vendors and suppliers that provide the best products and services. “Everyone in our company has a strong work ethic and most of the people we work with have the same type of initiative, which has been one of the other factors that has contributed to our growth,” he adds. “The other important elements in our growth have been good communication and remote management.

“At one time, we also farmed some land in southeast Missouri, which is over 150 miles away,” Oliver explains. “I don’t know that we’d try it again, but it did teach us how to communicate and manage remotely.” To that end, Nichols, Oliver and the employees hold regular meetings to discuss their plans and goals and to coordinate activities. Nichols has also implemented a JDLink™ program from John Deere that allows him or Micheal to track machine locations, monitor fuel usage and track and plan maintenance. For the same reason, they’ve equipped all their T-L pivots with remote monitoring systems that allow them to track pivot movement, alert them if a pivot stops or even stop a pivot if a rain is approaching. Finally, they equipped one of the newest pivots with T-L’s Precision Point III system, which will allow them to have full control of the pivot from the office computer or a cell phone. Installed as a trial, it will also allow them to experiment with variable-rate irrigation, should they choose to do so at a later date.

“I guess the bottom line is we’re not afraid to try something new,” Nichols concludes. “But once we do make a decision on something, we want it to be the right one.”

Bob Wade

Glendale, Ky

When he put together the budget for four T-L center pivot irrigation systems in 2012, Bob Wade, Jr. based the financial sheet on an average increase of 50 bushels of corn per acre. As it turned out, the difference was closer to 200 bushels per acre.

Thanks to the severe drought that hit much of the Midwest that year —  including the area around Glendale, Kentucky, where Wade farms approximately 4,000 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans — corn yields on dryland fields were anywhere from 30 to 70 bushels per acre. In the meantime, yields under Wade’s T-L pivots were in the range of 250 bushels.

“We had some soybeans under the pivot that year, too,” Wade relates. “But the yield difference wasn’t as dramatic because we finally got some rain in late July and August, which helped the soybeans along. As a result, we averaged around 53 bushels per acre on dryland beans, with some fields under irrigation into the 70s. But with no rain and 106-degree days, the dryland corn was gone by the end of July.”

Wade says in addition to the moisture the center pivots provided, the water also cooled the fields.

“It was probably 10 degrees cooler in the corn under the pivots,” he recalls. “Of course, the pivots were running almost 24/7 during the drought. That’s when you realize just how important it is to have some of the crops under irrigation.”

Due in part to that early success, Wade added four more T-L pivots in the spring of 2013, followed by another two in the fall, bringing the total under irrigation to nearly 1,000 acres. All but one, he says, make a full circle, covering 60 to 120 acres each. While most of them pull water directly from nearby rivers, the three located near the farmstead were a little more of a challenge. Consequently, Wade is building a new six-acre pond near his house to serve as a continuous water supply.

“It’s designed to hold almost 46 million gallons and supply around 800 acres,” he says. “In the meantime, the pond will get its water from a well that pumps about 500 gallons per minute and a wet-weather creek that feeds into it,” he adds, noting that he also had bridges built so one of the pivots could cross the creek. “My plan was to build the pond for a steady water supply that could exceed the well capacity when necessary; but all of a sudden, I have all these friends offering recreational ideas,” he grins. “They’re all thinking about the fishing opportunities.”

Still, Wade had more than drought protection and fishing in mind when he started building the pond and buying more pivots. He was also thinking of the increased income potential.

“It’s all about making the land that I own more productive,” he says. “As crop land rent has gone up, it has become more economical to put irrigation on the land that I own and increase yields that way than to rent more land. It’s simply a way to expand without acquiring more land or labor.”

Wade says the pivots also provide a means for adding 32 percent liquid fertilizer during the growing season and applying fungicide when necessary.

“In 2012, I made two applications of nitrogen and one application of fungicide through the pivot,” he explains. “I think the fungicide application, in particular, was more precise than it has been when we had it flown on.”

Wade had more in mind than just the precision provided by continuous-movement, hydraulic drive, though. He also credited Ken Moore with R & K Pivots, his T-L dealer for his decision.

“I looked at all the different brands and talked to several company representatives at the farm shows,” he relates. “But I ultimately decided on T-L because I liked the dealer. R & K Pivots has been in business for almost 30 years, while the dealers for some of the other brands have only been around since pivot irrigation started moving east.

“I also liked the hydraulic drive, since some of the bottoms, where I pull the irrigation water out of the river, tend to flood on occasion,” he adds. “I didn’t want to worry about having electric motors under water.

Joe Neal Ballance

Bowling green, Kentucky


“In this case, these pivots aren’t near any creek or river, and the nearest well is only capable of producing around 500 gallons per minute,” explains Joe Neal Balance of Triple Oaks Farms, which is a partnership between his son, Neal, and a brother and a nephew near Bowling Green, Kentucky. “We have some wells that produce 500 gallons and some that produce up to 800 gallons per minute or more. However, they all go down into solid rock that is 20 to 40 feet below the soil surface, even as little as 10 feet in some areas.”

Wells are slow to recharge
The other issue is that most of those wells don’t tap into aquifers like they do in the Midwest. Rather, the wells access underground streams, as evidenced by a large crawfish that came out of one well when it was being drilled in this area of the country. After they have been pumping for a while, such wells often have to replenish for several hours before they can again reach capacity.

Hence, the solution for Balance and a few other Kentucky farmers has been to establish or to enlarge a pond or lake to serve as a reservoir for low-producing wells and rainfall runoff. This investment allows them to apply more water than the established well can sustain at a time when a crop is demanding extra moisture.

“We had good commodity prices in 2012. However, we also suffered from a severe drought in our area that year,” Balance points out. “So we chose to take some of the crop insurance payment we received and invest in irrigation. Land leases are really high around here, so we decided that instead of trying to rent more land, we would try to make the land we have more productive.”

Ironically, that decision coincided with the discovery of a good water supply at one location while drilling a well in search of natural gas.

Consequently, Triple Oaks Farms has already installed seven center pivot units with plans to install more as it develops the water resources.

Like Triple Oaks Farms, Bob Wade, who farms near Glendale, Kentucky, installed four center pivots just ahead of the 2012 drought.

As a result, Wade saw corn yield differences of 200 bushels between dryland and irrigated fields that year. That certainly provided a huge incentive to expand irrigation in the future.

Continuous water supply
While Wade is fortunate to pull water directly from nearby rivers that feed five of his center pivots, he has also constructed a pond to serve as a continuous water supply for three additional pivots.

“It’s a 6-acre pond designed to hold almost 46 million gallons and to supply needed water  for around 800 acres,” Wade explains. “In the meantime, the pond will get its water from a well that pumps  about 500 gallons per minute and a wet-weather creek that feeds into it.”

Wade notes that his plan was “to build the pond for a steady water supply that could exceed the well capacity when necessary.”

Balance notes that he already saw that corn yields had increased up to 120 bushels or better due to irrigation compared with dryland fields in 2014. That, he adds, was with limited water resources.

“I think a lot of farmers have the attitude that irrigation is something they only consider when corn is high priced,” Balance says. “In my opinion, a guarantee on the revenue stream is more important when corn is $3.50 or $4 than when it’s $6 or $7. So our plan is to put in more systems as resources allow.”

Joel Armistead

Adairville, Kentucky

joel_armistead_featuredJoel Armistead isn’t spoofing either. He has lots and lots of proof that a center-pivot irrigation system can have just as much value to a farmer east of the Mississippi River as one further west and just wait until he has some more experience under his belt.

While Armistead couldn’t foresee that the 2008 growing season would be as hot and dry as the previous year, it was a good thing that he decided not to take chances.

By corn planting time on his Adairville, Kentucky, farm, a T-L center-pivot on a ten-year lease was installed to provide dependable moisture on 125 acres. This was to be his first experience with irrigation.

From mid-June to the last of August his T-L racked up 448 hours of operation, sometimes applying 3/4-inch each time around, but most circles were set at 3/10- inch to lessen water run-off from the rolling portion of the field. Incidentally, due to a power pole’s location, Armistead’s unit has to be reversed rather than completing a full circle.

The bottom line, by any measure, is written in black ink.

Armistead’s entire T-L irrigated circle averaged 264 bushels of corn an acre. His certified acreage entry for the National Corn Growing contest went through his combine at a 305.9 bushels an acre rate.

How outstanding a yield this was and how irrigation came through for him is illustrated by the 80 bushels an acre the dryland corn in the same field averaged previously.

His top dryland yield from a nearby bottomland field averaged 140 bushels an acre. Hurt by abnormally hot and dry weather, his overall dryland corn average was a bare 113 bushels an acre in 2008.

The irrigated circle averaged 151 bush- els per acre more than the dryland corn. That’s impressive!

Another impressive statistic is that an irrigated acre netted him $544.33 more profit per acre than the dryland. For the 125 acres, that is $68,041.25 more total profit!

His new T-L allowed Armistead to gain some managerial tweaks that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, as well.

First, he was able to save the $10 to $12 an acre cost for an airplane to apply insecticide and fungicide by injecting them through his pivot system instead.

Second, he also made three eight- gallon applications of liquid nitrogen mixed in the irrigation water—fertigation. Incidentally, at 255 units an acre, his nitro- gen application in the circle was less than a pound per bushel harvested.

Armistead initially had decided on an electrically powered center-pivot sprinkler system as his solution to coping with a drought year. However, as he explains, “It’s kind of scary to think of water and electricity being together. I’d also talked to electric system users who told me about the troubles a thunderstorm can cause.

“So, I explored on the Internet to see if there was a system not run by electricity. I found the T-L site, and read all the customer interviews.”

“Then,” he adds, “the final touch was when I found there was a T-L dealer within 20 miles of me who was really helpful in my first year of irrigating.”

Armistead says he’s much more familiar with hydraulics than high voltage electric- ity. For example, when he raises up the side shield of his combine he views a multitude of hydraulic lines, all operating at much higher pressures than his T-L sprinkler.

“But, what really caught my eye was seeing that his T-Ls didn’t need electric motors out there on each wheel unit,” he continues.

“It looked like the T-Ls also had their wheel spaced for more stability. Their operation is simple when using all the basic controls. To me, a T-L is the saf- est and simplest center-pivot available,” Armistead says.

“I’m happy with my T-L—and I’ve already ordered a second T-L center-pivot for next summer!”


Joel being interviewed by AG Day TV at the 2014 Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY

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