It's not so much the cost of irrigation labor that concerns Belzoni, Miss., farmer Willard Jack. It's just hard to find someone willing to work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning during the dog days of summer.
This was part of the reason Jack designed an H-valve for irrigating with rollout pipe about five years ago.
“At the time, we were using two T-valves tied together on some hard pipe,” said Jack. “Coming off of that was some rollout pipe. That's when we decided to try the H-valve.”
After Jack and his sons noodled the concept of the H-valve one fall, they contracted with a local machine shop to build them. Jack's H-valve is 14.5 inches in diameter and has four inner valves. “All we do is set it down and hook four pieces of rollout pipe to it with a plastic tie. It's relatively simple to put together and operate.”
Once the H-valve is set up, “all you have to do is flip two valves to go to the next run.”
Jack noted that the H-valve “requires a little more pipe when you're laying it out and a little more time to lay it out. But it's a management tool.
“If you have it laid out where you can manage it, it's easy to make 10 set changes where if you were doing it the old way, you would need a crew of four or five working an hour Sunday morning and an hour Sunday night. Four or five men are not available on Sunday morning anymore.”
Jack believes the design will pay for itself in reduced labor and efficiency. “We don't think we waste as much water with this system. We've used the system extensively the last three years and the last two years, we've gotten more comfortable with it.”
The primary advantage of watering with the H-valve is that “it let's you design a set for either 12- or 24-hour operation,” noted Mississippi State University agricultural engineer Jim Thomas. “It gets the water on and off the crop for a shorter period of time.”
It also reduces exposure to weather, Thomas said. “If I water a whole 40-acre field with one quarter-mile of rollout pipe, it may take three to three and a half days to get water through it. If it rains at the end of that period, it's going to hurt all 40 acres.
“Doing it in sets lets me get the water through a little faster. But the big advantage is if it rains, more of the field has had some drain time and doesn't get hurt as bad. What we try to teach in the SMART program is get the water on and off in as short a time as feasible.
The H-valve is similar to irrigating with a single-T at the well in that extra rollout pipe is substituted for the process of opening and closing gates or plugging holes. But the H-valve increases capacity over that method by 33 percent where you're making three runs instead of two. “The T-valve allows you to do two runs, and we still do that on smaller fields,” Jack said. “The H-valve lets you get into a bigger field and run three.”
The H-valve cost is about $1,100 for a commercial model with four valves and $700 for a two-valve H. Unfortunately, the valves are not readily available at lower prices at this time, noted Thomas.
But there are some cheaper alternatives,” he said. “You can make a plastic H without any valves in it. Put a groove formed on each one of the ends of the H where you can put a metal clamp or a plastic wire ties to clamp the pipe on. Then just tie the rollout pipe off with a piece of rope to simulate the valves.
“I've also seen some corrugated Ts hooked together with pipe. So you can have a Volkswagen model or a Cadillac.”
Jack could make the entire operation automatic with timers on the valves. “But we still like to go look to make sure everything is working, and that a coon or coyote hasn't eaten a hole in the pipe. But we used to have a four- to five-man crew to water. We're down to one.”
Jack uses seven H-valves on his operation, a couple of single Ts, and still uses gated pipe on a couple of runs. “We're rapidly eliminating (the latter) as we go along. As you know every watered operation is more of an evolution than a revolution. We do a little bit every year.”
In fact, before every season, Jack and his two sons figure how they can improve irrigation. “I'm big about attacking what we did the year before,” Jack said. “I challenge my decisions every year. If they don't stand that test, we'll try to make a change.”