This time of year, many Alabama farmers are watching the horizon for the summertime rain showers their crops desperately need, but thanks to the latest in irrigation technology, Pickens County farmers Mike and Annie Dee can see the water flowing to their fields on their smartphones.
“To my family, this is the culmination of a dream,” said Mike as he and sister, Annie, welcomed 300 farmers and dignitaries to Dee River Ranch May 4 for a demonstration of their new irrigation network. “My parents got us here and started us in agriculture, and we’ve been building at this. This is just one more piece of the progression of staying in agriculture.”
For the Dees, progress this growing season came in the form of a 110-acre reservoir and five new center-pivot irrigation units — all tied to a central pumping station and controlled by a sophisticated wireless network.
Lance Whitehead, who farms 2,000 acres in Fayette and Pickens counties, attended the field day. He was especially interested in technology that allows the Dees to control the system from a home computer or mobile device.
“The most interesting part of the field day was the communication using WiFi — how you can manage your irrigation systems while you are 50 miles away,” Whitehead said. “It no longer takes somebody out there in the field. You can check on it from your laptop or phone.”
Mike Dee said irrigation is becoming essential for their corn and soybean crops. With input costs skyrocketing, he and Annie do everything they can to increase production and mitigate risk. The new irrigation system — which will eventually include 13 center pivots covering up to three-fourths of their fields — will help them take advantage of Alabama’s abundant rainfall.
“We have so much of our rainfall come in a non-growing season,” Mike said. “It hurts your heart sometimes to watch a crop wilt away on you — or know that it’s getting damaged every day that we go without a rain.”
The new reservoir will capture rainfall and runoff during winter and early spring. Mike said the irrigation network can supply up to 8 inches of stored water per acre.
“Irrigation is an insurance policy,” he added. “It’s not going to make a crop for us, but it’s going to help save a crop for us. Or, when we have a good growing year, it may give us a little bonus and hopefully keep us from having a disaster.”
The Dees worked with Lindsay Corp. of Omaha, Neb., to develop and implement an irrigation plan for their diversified row crop and beef cattle operation. Randy Wood, vice president of sales and marketing for Lindsay, said the system showcased at Dee River Ranch field day represents a comprehensive approach to on-farm irrigation.
“In the past, a customer who wanted to do a project like this would probably work with three or four different companies to bring it all together,” Wood said. “We’ve built (this system) around customer needs and expectations. It is all Lindsay Corp. technology designed to work together.”
Mike said the field day, which included a presentation by Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan, allowed neighbors and other farmers to learn about the latest irrigation technology and gain appreciation for the commitment Dee River Ranch has to the state and community.