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Swapping Drip Irrigation for Pivots Has Advantages

For several years, the partners in Southern Acres Farms grew watermelons just like every other melon producer located around Lenox, Georgia. That meant burying drip tape approximately 4 to 6 inches deep throughout the field and attaching it to a network of supply hoses and filters. As always, at the end of the season, the partners would plow up and then dispose of that drip tape after only one season of use.

“It amounted to a lot of expense, even though the filters and flex hoses can be used from year to year,” points out Buck Moore, who farms with his brother, Broc Moore, and his brother-in-law, Tyler Sumner. “The drip tape alone runs about $150 per acre. By the time we add labor and fuel to install it and dig it up after harvest, we’re looking at $200 to $300 per acre.”

converting to pivots to cut costs

Consequently, the Southern Acres team has been steadily converting to pivot irrigation on the majority of the 3,000 acres. In addition to investing in a system that is more permanent, the pivots can also be used when the fields are rotated into the other crops produced on the farm, which include cotton, peanuts, corn, and tobacco. 

“The drip was only used in fields where we grew watermelons,” Buck says. “However, irrigation can provide a benefit with any of the crops, including peanuts and tobacco, particularly in a dry year.”

Buck notes that although their father, Ricky Moore, put in the first pivot in 1994, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that they became more aggressive about adding additional units.

Now that the farm’s fifth generation has assumed a management role (their father still farms and operates under Moore Farms), pivot installations have occurred at an even faster pace. 

benefits outweigh loss of crop 

“We put in three new pivots this past year and eight the year before that. We basically put up as many as we can afford to each year. They make it so much easier to grow watermelons. Plus, it gives us the ability to irrigate other crops in following years,” Broc adds, noting that they grow about 220 acres of watermelons and about 200 acres of corn, with the balance being in their other main crops. “The benefits we gain with center pivot units far out-weigh anything we lose with pivot wheels running over watermelons or vines.”

The biggest challenge, says Tyler, is budgeting the cost of pivots on their small fields, which average around 28 to 30 acres each. “This is an expensive area to put up pivots, just because of the field size,” Tyler admits. “Still, the only reason we would continue to use drip tape is if a field is so irregular in size that we can’t cover it with a full pivot or wiper.”

This past year, the partners also discovered another pivot benefit that came
with the addition of remote control and monitoring
via AgSense to the three newest units.

remote control

“The pivots are not that far from the office,” Buck admits. “So, it’s not a matter of having to drive very far to check on them or start and stop a unit. What we did find, though, is that when we’re spraying a crop, we can just use the cell phone to move the pivot out of the way without having to stop or get off the sprayer. With the exception of corn, we do have to spray everything multiple times.”

Hence, once pivots have replaced drip lines wherever it’s feasible, the final step for Southern Acres will probably be to retrofit several of the 45 to 50 pivots on the farm for remote management. In the meantime, the partners can look forward to throwing fewer dollars away each year in the form of disposable plastic.

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