X Factor

Pivots with the Valley X-Tec drive help grow high-quality potatoes—and families

Published online: Dec 28, 2017 Irrigation, New Products
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This article appears in the January 2018 issue of Potato Grower.

On Black Mesa Farms, in King Hill, Idaho, the main objective is to raise families. Raising potatoes and other crops is simply a means to that end. Decisions on the farm are influenced by their “family first” philosophy. From the crops they grow to the way in which they irrigate, their commitment to family is resounding.

Justin Wootan is the owner and operator of Black Mesa Farms. While he grew up on the farm, he left to become an aeronautical engineer. As he climbed in his engineering career, designing airplanes and moving into upper management, Justin determined he needed a change and to focus on a different way of life. He and his wife decided to move back to the farm to raise their children.

“We are family-centered, and farming makes that possible,” Justin says. “It’s beneficial to the kids to learn responsibility and grow up with that sense of life. It was great for me, and in turn we want to provide the opportunity of that life for our kids.”

 

Challenges of Growing Potatoes

The main cash crop on Black Mesa Farms is Russet Burbank potatoes, which they sell to McDonald’s for french fries.

“They demand the absolute top-of-the-line potatoes,” says Wootan.

Burbanks grow on about 650 of Black Mesa Farms’ 4,000-plus acres. The Wootans also rotate alfalfa and dryland rye.

Wootan has irrigated with two pivots for some time, but until recently, he used only solid-set irrigation over his potatoes. He would generally apply two inches of water over a 12-hour period, followed by a few days of drying out the field. He says there were always problems with that type of irrigation setup, including fungal issues.

“We had some success, but it seemed like we were always over- or under-watering, and it was very hard to get it right,” says Wootan. “We’d sometimes fall behind in our moisture levels, and we’d have to play catch-up. Fortunately, we could catch up with solid-set. The problem is, it was also very expensive and time-consuming.”

In fact, Wootan says he had to spend tens of thousands of dollars per year in labor alone.

“We’d spend $50,000 to $60,000 each year because we had to move all the pipes from one field to another as we rotated our potato crop with other crops,” he says. “Then, there was the maintenance cost and the time it took to actually operate the system. It wasn’t a great situation.

Wootan decided to make a change and try pivots over his potatoes to save both time and money. Because he already had pivots, he knew that they would be much less labor-intensive, but he did have concerns about keeping up with the watering needs of his prize crop.

Wootan likes to be on the cutting edge of technology when he sees a tangible benefit. So when he heard about a drive that would allow the pivot to move faster, he asked his Valley dealer, Jim Schrader of JTS Farmstore in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, if Valley had anything that would compete.

“I was about to purchase a new pivot, and I really wanted one that could move fast enough to keep up with the kind of irrigation my potatoes require,” Wootan says.

Schrader informed him of the new Valley X-Tec advanced DC drive motor that was in field test with Valley. It would move a pivot up to twice as fast as other motors. Justin became one of the first in line to put it to the test.

The Valley X-Tec is a new DC drive motor that runs full torque at speeds ranging from 1 to 136 RPM. Its patented alignment technology provides greater precision and consistent application while keeping correct alignment over varying terrain. That was appealing to Wootan, but what he really values is the speed the X-Tec provides.

“To get high-quality potatoes, we need lots of water, and Valley X-Tec helps us keep up with the crops’ high demands,” he says. “We run our pivots all day during the hot season, and our pivot with Valley X-Tec technology lets our irrigation package match the water intake rates of the soil and evapotranspiration.”

 

Remote Telemetry

Wootan began using AgSense remote telemetry three years ago, so it was an easy decision to use it on his newest pivot as well.

“I like it because I can use it to start and stop multiple pivots at multiple locations at the same time,” Wootan says. “When I’m harvesting, I don’t have to stop to move pivots. I can just do it on my phone. It lets me squeeze all the time out of the day that I can.”

His newest pivot is equipped with a Valley ICON10. Wootan can control it at the pivot point on a 10-inch, full-color touchscreen display or through AgSense ICON Link. He also uses the Valley ICON app with Edge-of-Field wi-fi to control his pivot.

“It’s easy to put the panel in service mode for troubleshooting,” he says. “I’ve been doing so much experimenting on this field that it’s been very beneficial.”

 

Moving Forward

The benefits of his new pivot with the Valley X-Tec drive were so apparent that Wootan quickly ordered another one. This one includes variable rate irrigation and resides on a sloping field with crustier soil—a completely different situation. It’s not just the terrain and soil that are different, though. The addition of the pivot this last summer has already changed the way he farms.

Because of the labor and time savings, along with the improved health of the plants and the flexibility his pivots offer, Wootan continues to move away from solid-set irrigation and toward pivots.

“I started with two pivots, and I’ll have nine by the time I have everything in next year,” he says. “I’ll probably put in a couple more in a few years.”