"We believe that with proper maintenance our T-Ls will run until they're 50 years old."
Really, 50 years? A entire, l-o-n-g, half-century of making circles? Well, with his family’s first seven T-L center pivots now working their 27th season, Reed McClymont, Holdrege, Nebraska, feels he has more than a little confidence in his statement.
His father, Phil, added an eighth T-L unit the following year. Now the family operates 23 T-Ls, plus ten electric units on land they rent. McClymont is in charge of crop growing and his brother Peter handles their 15,000 head capacity beef feedlot.
It was the traditional conventional tillage on their farm until three years ago. Then a big double switch was made to a corn:soybeans rotation and virtual no-till.
During those past three seasons, several of them experienced extreme drought, McClymont’s records show their soybean yields ranged from 61 to 68 bushels an acre. The corn averaged between 197 to 207 bushels, with one field managed normally and not for any contest, coming in at a whopping 238 bushels an acre.
“We need to be able to consistently raise high yielding crops,” McClymont points out. “Irrigation, center pivot irrigation in particular, allows us to do just that.”
Achieving this has been one of the three objectives on which he’s focused. The other two are controlling expenses and marketing.
Realizing early on the value of an annual maintenance program, McClymont says that every winter he and his men spend three to four hours with each of their T-Ls. This routine includes checking the oil, gearboxes, and tires, changing hydraulic filters, and greasing the pivot point.
His records show total average outlay for this work on the T-Ls to be less than one-sixth the average maintenance bill for an electric unit.
Then, during the summer, while it’s a rarity for him to request a service call for one of the T-Ls, “Each of our electric machines will average between three to four service calls during the season. Ninety percent of the time it’s a switch, a lot probably due to the constant starting and stopping each tower does,” McClymont says.
“So, that’s usually a half-day of sprinkling lost, although we had one unit last summer that took two days to fix. We have two electrics that chronically seem to blow fuses with every thunderstorm.”
With their T-Ls, though, they typically experience few if any problems other than a tower getting stuck on occasion, and that’s not peculiar to T-Ls alone, according to McClymont.
However, in contrast to the electrics, he notes that their employees can do 100 percent of any necessary work on the hydro static T-Ls. That’s not the case at all with an electric center pivot.
McClymont recalls a bad experience with electricity at a young age, and he just doesn’t like working around it. Neither do their employees. He also thinks that if they attempted to do much of the electrical repair work themselves, from a safety standpoint two men should work together in case of an accident. This, however, would add to expenses.
“We see a lot of neighbors routinely replacing their 20-year-old electric center pivots,” McClymont smiles. “Meanwhile, our 27-year-old T-Ls are as structurally sound as the day they were put up, and still run straight as a string. All we’ve done over the years is replace some nozzles and tires and change the sprinkler package.
“We believe that with proper maintenance our T-Ls will run until they’re 50 years old,” says McClymont.
Incidentally, McClymont thinks it’s possible that T-L center pivots might provide at least a small yield advantage due to their continual motion. This results in fertilizer applied through the system being more evenly distributed to all the plants in a field.
He comments that he’s also “been really impressed” with many of the new features made available on T-Ls in the past several years.
High on his list is the ability to control center pivot speed and direction from the well location. This is especially important on the fields they’re converting from gravity to sprinkler where the well is at a different location from the pivot point.
Also appreciated, he says, is the flexibility and wide variety of sprinkler options T-L Irrigation makes available. There’s a sprinkler package that can fit almost any soil and slope situation.
“We like the way they’re made, the quality of the equipment, the lack of repair work needed, and their longevity” McClymont sums up. “We think the T-L is a much better value than an electric.”
WHY T-L CENTER PIVOTS?
Now 70 percent center pivot irrigated, the McClymonts are switching their remaining gravity irrigated 30 percent over to center pivots as quickly as they can. There are many reasons for this, with increased net profit certainly the most important.
“I did a comparison last winter of what it cost us to pump water in 2002,” McClymont reports. “We had $18.52 less energy expense per acre under our center pivots than we did under gravity irrigation!”
“And,” he quickly adds, “that figure doesn’t consider the lower labor and machine costs, and how we usually needed to make fewer trips over a center pivot field. I calculated that there was a nine bushel an acre corn yield difference favoring the center pivots, too.”
Nor does the pumping cost figure reflect being able to put on water any time McClymont wants to improve a stand or water down a herbicide for enhanced weed control. Their pivots are also used to apply pesticides and approximately 60 percent of all the fertilizer going on any field.
“Center pivots are just a tremendous tool we can use to solve a lot of the management problems that we may run into during the growing season,” McClymont says.
Projecting into the future, he also notes that, “We’re looking at a time when the amount of water we can pump in a year or three-year average is regulated. Only a center pivot will realistically allow us to manage water usage under that kind of situation.”