Read stories from farmers all around the world and why they chose T-L.
Read stories from farmers all around the world and why they chose T-L.
"We find the T-Ls to be very reliable. It puts us hours, even days ahead when it comes to getting back to work."
When wind destroyed 52 irrigation spans, T-L had replacements on a boat and to New Zealand in record time, saving high-value crops. In September 2013, a fierce windstorm raged its way across New Zealand South Island’s fertile Canterbury Plains. A particularly vicious version of the region’s frequent nor’westers, winds gusted up to 119 km/hour (74 mph) mangling 52 of Daniel Lovett’s more than 100 irrigation spans.
The timing had the potential to be disastrous. The growing season was just beginning meaning multiple high-value vegetable crops were either already in the ground or about to be planted. Lovett raises potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, wheat, barley, radish seed, clover, grass feed, black currents and some maize at Lovett Family Farms, Ltd., together with his parents, Greg and Joanne Lovett; wife, Emily; and children, Max, Elanore and Isabelle.
All crops require irrigation as prevailing westerly winds sweeping down from the nearby Southern Alps quickly evaporate soil moisture during the growing season. The drying winds and low summer rainfall on the plains result in at least 40 drought days without the benefit of supplemental irrigation. Irrigation usually starts in October or November and carries through to March, with peak water needs occurring from November through January. Lovett needed to act fast.
“We rang T-L in the United States directly and told them we needed 52 spans. They had them on the water within a month and here within 8 weeks. Their ability to act quickly when we needed them is one of the biggest positives about the company,” Lovett says.
The Lovetts along with their 15 staff members fixed and moved what pivots they could, prioritizing fields currently growing vegetable crops. They dismantled destroyed pivots while waiting for replacements and were ready to quickly assemble the new pivots with some guidance from their local T-L service reps.
“We were watering at 100% again by December 1 and were able to do the assembly work ourselves saving time and money. Since the T-L systems are hydraulic, we didn’t even have to have a sparky [electrician] on the ground to do the job,” Lovett says.
Though T-L was quick to respond, Lovett doesn’t want to relive the anxiety of losing that many pivots again. Together with a kite-maker/engineer, we designed a wing to stabilize his spans in wind. The “I Wing” sits about halfway up the tower above the tower wheels. As wind moves over the wing, it applies down pressure on the wheel. The harder the wind blows, the more down pressure there is keeping the span firmly on the ground.
It’s not only during disaster recovery that Lovett is glad for his decision to use T-L pivots. In the early 1990s when Daniel’s father, Greg, was ready to upgrade from the 100-meter wide side roll systems they had to move daily, Greg spoke to a freelance irrigation service technician. “I asked him what brand was the easiest to maintain or service. He said hydraulic machines. On hydraulic systems he said he could diagnose the problem and have the machine sorted in 30 minutes to 1 hour, whereas he had to spend all day just trying to find the problem on an electric machine,” Greg says.
On that advice, Lovett eventually purchased and installed 21 T-L laterals on the farm and on acres owned by a sister company. “We prefer lateral move systems to center pivots. The crops we grow need even water application and a lot of our fields are in squares, so it doesn’t make sense to put in a circle and miss corners. We use as much land as we can. Land here is expensive and leases are highly competitive,” he says.
Lovett Family Farms owns 80 percent of their land and lease the remaining 20 percent. All owned land is irrigated with T-L systems, but they still deal with electric systems on leased grounds. The electric pivots are all relatively new, so he doesn’t fight them much, but still prefers the steady hydraulic movement and the lateral setup of his own T-L systems. “With the electric pivot the corner arm is always over or under watering or getting stuck because there’s so much weight out on the end. Uneven watering makes crops under the corner arms more likely to get disease and rot. We mostly only raise onions and potatoes under the electric pivots on lease land,” Lovett says.
Even watering helps with water use efficiency, too. Irrigation water is pulled from bore wells or from the nearby Rakaia river—known as a braided river due to the wide bed crisscrossed by an ever-changing network of channels. While mountain rain and snowmelt keep the river flowing all summer, there are flow rate restrictions. Bore water has flow rate and annual volume restrictions. “We don’t want to waste water,” he says. As a result, Lovett is experimenting with Precision Mobile Drip Irrigation (PMDI) to reduce evaporation and utilize all applied water. The system requires pulling 10 meters of drip tape from every drop on a 57-meter- long span. That can get quite heavy, but the constant movement and torque provided by hydrostatic drives make T-L systems well up to the task. Which is good, because Lovett likes what he’s seen so far with PMDI.
“When we first installed the system, we only received half of the drip tape we needed, so our potatoes and onions under that lateral only got a half rate of water for the first 3 months,” Lovett says. When they got the rest of the tape in, they installed it and applied a full rate of water for the rest of the year. “The crops yielded the same as if they got full water all year. This year they will get full water all year long and we’re hoping to see a yield increase.”
Not so successful was Lovett’s investment in a Trimble variable rate irrigation (VRI) system. Many area producers are being forced to use VRI to apply dairy effluent. However, Lovett voluntarily went the VRI route to manage a low-lying field with half high-quality soil and half poor, rocky soil. He wanted to grow high-value vegetable crops on the good side and grain crops on the other. With VRI he should have been able to apply more of his water allotment to the vegetable crops and less to the grains.
“It has been a nightmare,” he says. The system won’t connect or stay connected to their computers or phones, end guns consistently don’t work and system hardware has been replaced twice in just 2 years. “When it did work it did the job, we just couldn’t keep it working like it was supposed to. It was a $100,000 NZD [$66,510 USD] investment and we’re walking away from it.”
Completely opposite of the VRI debacle, T-L systems have proven to be little to no fuss year after year for Lovett and his team. His two staff mechanics can easily and quickly fix any issues that pop up. He notes the T-L systems are easier to understand and less dangerous for those working on them without high voltage electricity in the mix like the electric pivots on rented acres.
Lovett is in the process of upgrading his T-L pivots, replacing his original 200-meter laterals with the larger laterals — up to 640-meter — now available. Going bigger with his laterals fits the overall trend in their farming system of increasing field size and ever-larger equipment. The new laterals are roughly 11 spans with 4-wheel carts instead of 2-wheel carts. The laterals are guided across fields either by underground cable or by new GPS systems.
“With the wire system, sometimes the front and back wheels get off and we end up with two wheel tracks in the field with these larger machines and long travel distances. GPS guidance keeps everything very straight so there’s only one track end to end and less chance for the irrigator to get stuck,” Lovett says.
Digital control panels are another bonus with the new T-L systems. “The old ones you had to stop manually with a barrier. Now, we can do it with the computer and tell it to stop at 300 meters or 97 meters with just a few buttons. There are also some diagnostic capabilities with the new control panel,” he says. Not that he needs it overly often. “We find the T-Ls to be very reliable. We get the odd breakdown, but we get it fixed and going quickly unlike the electric systems. It puts us hours, even days ahead when it comes to getting back to work.”