Darren Stallwitz

Dumas, Texas
T-L Water Management Pivots
They're simple enough that we can do a lot of our own repairs. T-L was the first unit Dad bought back in the late '70s and it's still the brand he prefers today for that reason.

With pumping allotments on the decrease, pivots need to be ready to move when plants need water.

Darren Stallwitz isn’t a psychic or a fortune teller, but he’s already made at least one prediction that he believes will … unfortunately … come true.

“Our three electric center pivot irrigation units will give me more trouble this year and take up more of my time than all 13 of our T-L units combined,” says Darren, who farms with his father, Eddie, and son, Garrett, near Dumas, Texas. “I just know they will, because that has certainly been the case in the past.”

Due to record drought across Texas in 2011, this past growing season certainly wasn’t the time to experience problems, either. In response to a directive fromT the State of Texas to predict how much water would remain in the underlying aquifer in 50 years the North Plains Water District has already established pumping allocations, which have been steadily decreasing every few years.

The allocations started four years ago with a 24-inch limit and 2011 was the first year for an 18- inch quota. The next step down will be 16 inches.

Of the nearly 5,500 acres the Stallwitz family farms, approximately 40 percent of it is irrigated with the crop mix divided between irrigated and dryland wheat, approximately 850 acres of irrigated corn, 110 acres of hay and about 100 acres of milo.

“We’ve already done a number of things to help reduce our water usage,” Stallwitz relates. “For one, we’ve been planting almost everything no-till in an effort to maintain as much residue as possible to reduce evaporation from the heat and wind. That includes rotating some of our corn with irrigated wheat and planting no-till into the old wheat stubble,” he adds, noting that irrigated wheat also requires less water than corn, yet provides higher yields than dryland wheat. “Garrett thinks we should go to strip till on our row crops, but we’re still looking at that option.”

Like most farmers in the area, Stallwitz also uses sprinkler nozzles on drop tubes on all the pivots to put the water a few inches from the ground. Darren says he has also begun experimenting with soil moisture probes in a couple fields to measure precise moisture levels in the root zone down to 60 inches.

“I can pull up all the information on the computer, but I’m still working on how to apply it,” he admits. “The idea is to hold off irrigation until the monitor tells you when the plants actually need water. That includes holding off irrigation when the roots are developing to force them deeper into the soil profile.”

Of course, that means the pivot needs be ready to go when it’s time to water.

“I think I’ve only replaced one gearbox on a T-L the whole time we’ve owned them,” he says, noting that all are equipped with planetary drives. “I have replaced a few hydraulic motors, but only because of age. Our oldest T-L unit is 32 years old and it’s still going.”

That hasn’t been the case with the three electric units Stallwitz Farms still operates. Darren says he is continually working on center drives, gearboxes, U-joints and switches. “I think all that starting and stopping is just hard on the electric units,” he says. “There’s a lot of torque there every time you stop and restart; and I think that contributes to a lot of the problems.”

Darren says the only reason he even has any electric units at all is because he and his brother, who used to farm with the family, bought two of them used. The third was acquired when a previous landlord didn’t want to split the cost of a T-L.

“We haven’t bought anything but T-L pivots since that time, even after a tornado took out three of our pivots,” he adds. “The insurance paid for one new T-L and we used the parts from the one we replaced to repair another one.

“Of course, that’s another advantage of the T-L units,” he says. “They’re simple enough that we can do a lot of our own repairs. T-L was the first unit Dad bought back in the late ’70s and it’s still the brand he prefers today … primarily for that very reason.”