Joe Neal Ballance

Bowling green, Kentucky


When Triple Oaks Farms put in a 14-acre pond this past spring, it wasn’t because the owners liked to fish. Instead, the goal was to establish a storage reservoir designed to feed up to three new center pivot irrigation systems.

“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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James Yarbro

Dukedom, Tennessee

james_yarbro_featured-400x265Like 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.

J. R. Thompson

Lawrenceville, Illinois

JR_Thompson_featured“What first caught my interest about T-Ls was, number one, service. I believe that service is as important as the product-which is why I now have 16 T-Ls,” J. R. Thompson in Lawrenceville, Illinois explains.

He farms approximately 2,500 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, green beans, and seed corn. Depending on soil type and slope, he utilizes conventional-till, minimum- till, or no-till. He also handles and feeds under contract 12,000 weaning-to finish hogs annually.

Under critical weather conditions, such as when it’s 95 degree fahrenheit and the wind’s blowing 30 miles an hour, Thompson says, “We can’t stand much down time if we’re trying to produce a crop.

“Here’s an example of my T-L dealer service I’ve received, at 9 p. m. or 10 p.m. one hot summer day I found I needed some parts for a pivot. I talked to the dealer’s wife, who was able to get hold of him at a meeting. I had my parts and was able to get the system up and running yet that evening. That’s service.”

Thompson is convinced that with his area’s soil types farmers can produce crop yields comparable with anybody in the country.

“What does irrigation do for me?” he asks. “One hundred bushels of corn an acre more. I can honestly say that over a five-year period I probably average 125 bushels of corn dryland versus 225 bushels an acre with sprinkler irrigation.

“With today’s commodity prices,”he adds, “I really believe a 160-acre center pivot can be paid off in one year, at most two years. An additional 100 bushels of corn at $5 a bushel is an extra $500 an acre!

“I believe that irrigating with my T-Ls can make a difference between making or not making money in farming.”

As far as maintenance is concerned, Thompson estimates his T-Ls represent a low $5 an acre annual cost. Some of his systems have never required repairs. Of course, the units that are close to two decades in age are obviously beginning to need some maintenance. Regardless, over the years, there’s only been a couple of major repairs needed.

He also thinks T-L’s continuous movement is an advantage, saying, “It only makes sense that continuous movement results in an even water pattern. It is hard to see in the field, but the yield monitor in the combine doesn’t lie, and it shows yields are fairly uniform across a soil type.”

The safety aspect with electric center- pivots also initially concerned him, and was another reason T-Ls were more appealing to him. Thompson believes that safety has to be a farmer’s top concern- if you get electrocuted it doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

One improvement he reports being “excited” about is the installation of GPS on some of his systems. That will enable him to track these units from his office. This will be a great time-saving feature since his irrigated fields extend out to a seven-mile radius.

“I like everything about my T-Ls ,”Thompson comments with a smile, ‘such as service, continuous movement, and being simple to work on. I’m happy with them.

“That’s why I’m not looking at any other brand-and why I just bought three more T-Ls this year!”