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Efficiency evolved

As a third-generation farmer in the Tipton, California, area, Tom Barcellos defines efficiency as “getting as much done in as few trips as possible.” He's accomplishing this through the integration of precision ag technology and the incorporation of new tillage practices.

For more than 10 years, investing in precision ag technology has allowed Barcellos to progressively improve – from planting to harvest – the efficiency in his fields as well as in his equipment, which has a total value of around $4 million.

“I started with GPS technology in 1998 with Ag Leader and Trimble yield monitors on the combines,” says Barcellos. “This gave me field maps so I could target variable-rate fertilizer applications. Lightbars and receivers were taken out of the combines and added onto the tractors for disking lands. The end result was parallel and correct width, no points, no wasted ground, and improved efficiency.”

Two years later, he added auto steer in one of his tractors to help prepare beds for cotton and corn.

“It was a Trimble automated steering system that turned out to be an unbelievable investment,” he recalls. “The base station and unit cost $48,000. Then I added it on a wheeled tractor, which provided expansion of auto steer and GPS technology. Besides improving efficiency, I saw a 10% to 15% savings in fuel. I also saw reduced operator fatigue and less wear and tear on machinery.”

That same year, Barcellos began practicing conservation tillage, which included some no-till. He also made a switch to Roundup Ready corn.

“At that time, the number of tractors working the ground dropped from five to one,” he says. “This eliminated labor, improved water efficiency, and cut fuel consumption considerably. I haven't purchased any cultivator bearings or sweeps for 11 years. That would be impossible without GPS and auto steer.”

Foundation to build on

As the years progressed, Barcellos continued to build on his technology base. He incorporated it into other aspects of his operation.

“When I converted to conservation tillage, one of the first purchases I made was a strip-till bar,” he says. “Then came the second auto steer system. I just kept adding, and now I have five tractors with auto steer. They are used for everything from tillage, to applying fertilizer, to spraying, to planting, to laser leveling. And I use a float tractor to make the final pass, which eliminates one overlap in the field.”

With its 60-foot boom, this technology has not only impacted the efficiency of his spray rig, but also made a big difference with his chopper.

“I cut eight 30-inch rows at one time,” says Barcellos. “It's not easy to chop into a truck and not spill any forage. The GPS makes my job so much easier.”

While GPS has saved money in labor and in parking tractors, Barcellos has seen other benefits.

“From one year to the next, fuel consumption has been reduced by 25%. There are also fewer exhaust emissions, and I'm seeing other environmental benefits,” he notes.

In 2003, Barcellos began working with the University of California, Davis researchers who were investigating the potential for conservation-tillage systems to improve air quality.

“The University of California, Davis has conducted studies that have shown as high as a 98% reduction in dust from conventional-till to no-till,” Barcellos notes. “Overall air quality has improved in the central basin of the San Joaquin Valley.”

Beyond the field

Improving efficiencies doesn't end at the edge of the field.

“We're fairly diversified,” he says. The operation includes 1,800 acres of owned and rented ground, plus Barcellos manages some additional ground.

“We custom harvest 5,000 acres of wheat and do some baling,” he says. “We primarily raise wheat, hay, and corn within 5 miles of the farm headquarters.”

In the past five years, crop averages show 8 to 10 tons per acre on alfalfa. First and last cuttings are green-chopped and bagged, while 28-day cuttings in between are put into 3×4-foot bales before being idled for winter.

“We chop, then bale seven cuttings, chop again, then shut down for two to three months,” says Barcellos. “Most of the wheat, which yields 18 to 24 tons per acre, is chopped for silage. The bulk of the corn is cut for silage and runs 35 tons per acre; grain yields 240 bushels per acre.”

But the grain harvest can extend out 100 miles in any given direction, so ensuring everyone is on track is key.

“I run 13 trucks all over the state, and each is equipped with GPS. I can save so much time finding locations and meeting schedules,” he notes.

In addition to growing crops, doing custom harvesting, and running a trucking operation, the family milks 800 cows and has a dairy lagoon cleanup service. They also raise heifers on a ranch in Corcoran.

With so many tentacles to the operation, Barcellos also equates teamwork with efficiency – an ethic that came early.

In those early days, whether it was driving equipment or cutting hay, wife Felomena and daughters Bridget, Theresa, and Deolinda pitched in when necessary.

Since then, the family has grown, and T-Bar Dairy and Barcellos Farms now include sons-in-law Mathew Kidder (Bridget's husband) and Jason Prather (Theresa's husband).

“Mathew runs the ranch, taking care of the hay and harvesting, and he's the all-around foreman,” explains Barcellos. “Jason tends to the mechanics and grain harvesting, but he is adding pistachios and prune harvesting to his list of duties.”

With 14 employees on the farm, eight workers in the dairy, and 22 to 24 seasonal helpers at harvesttime, Barcellos knows that efficiency runs well beyond the barn doors.

As he looks back over more than 36 years in the business, he credits the progression of the farm to the technology.

“I think the entire operation evolved because of the opportunities presented by GPS and the ability to level all of the ground with lasers,” says Barcellos. 

Learn more

Barcellos Farms 559/752-4360 barfarm@aol.com

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