T-L Irrigation Doubles Corn Yields

Clarkton, NC
We’ve been extremely pleased with our T-L pivots and as we add more pivots in the future, they will definitely be T-L units.

It’s been nearly seven years since Wade Byrd and his son, Robert Byrd, decided to install center pivot irrigation on their 1,200-acre farm near Clarkton, North Carolina. It started with two T-L units in 2011, with the addition of one more pivot each year through 2016, for a total of five units that cover around 400 acres. Since that time, corn yields on Byrdfield Farms’ irrigated fields have jumped to 200 to 250 bushels per acre.

“When we decided to put these pivots in, we were primarily looking at watering corn,” says Wade. “We also grow peanuts and soybeans; and peanuts do fairly well on dryland acres. But in our area, if you average much more than 100 bushels per acre on dryland corn year in and year out, you’re doing pretty well. However, we figure the irrigation guarantees us over 200 bushels with very few additional inputs. So, we feel like we’re getting a very quick return on our investment.”

Byrd notes that like a lot of farmers in his area, his main crop used to be peanuts. But as peanut prices have declined, more and more acres have been replaced by corn and soybeans. Today, the father/son team grows about 800 acres of corn and around 125 acres of peanuts, with the balance in soybeans. Unfortunately, irrigation is still limited to only about half the corn acres. “There used to be good money in peanuts,” he says. “But anymore, you have to have a pretty high yield to make much money. On the other hand, our hot, humid summers can be hard on corn when it’s tasseling and filling the ears.”

Fortunately, the Byrds’ T-L pivots provide other benefits that help improve corn yields. As an example, they’re often as valuable for keeping the crop cool as they are for providing water when rains are lacking. In fact, Byrd says water uptake is generally highest when the crop is tasseling. At the same time, he has seen a temperature difference of 10 to 15 degrees between dryland fields and fields in which pivots are running.

The five pivots on Byrdfield Farms also allow Wade and his son to put on a portion of their nitrogen fertilizer through the pivots, which helps provide nutrients as the plants need them. That, too, has had an impact on yields.

“We typically broadcast potash prior to planting and then put on about 225 units of nitrogen on irrigated fields in four different applications,” Byrd explains. “Part of it is put on with the planter as liquid starter. We make another application as a sidedress and put the balance on in two applications through the pivot.”

Of course, the continuous movement provided by the hydraulic drive, which prevents “spoking” when applying fertilizer, is just one of the reasons Byrd decided on T-L units.

“We decided to go with T-L because of the reputation they have with the hydraulic drive,” Wade relates. “We figured there would be fewer problems with the hydraulic motors and they would be easier for us to troubleshoot and maintain. Plus, we wouldn’t have to worry about wire theft.

“We also knew that our T-L dealer had a good reputation for service,” he adds. “So far, we’ve been extremely pleased with our T-L pivots and as we add more pivots in the future, they will definitely be T-L units.” Byrd says the biggest issue they face now is the lack of access to electricity in any of the remaining dryland fields. Even though the T-L pivots are hydraulically driven, the pump on any new wells would either require electricity to be run to an electric motor, or Byrd would need to install a combustion engine — most likely powered by propane — to drive the pump and a generator.

“The last T-L unit we put in is some distance from the home farm, so we added the Precision Link remote control to it so my son can control it with his cell phone,” Wade adds. “So far, that has really worked well, too. We may even look at putting some of our older units on remote control in the future. “We’ve just had extremely good luck with T-L products,” he concludes. “From getting the pivots and controls set up properly to having them run when needed, we’ve had no problems at all. Now, we just need to figure out how to add more of them.”