Mike Graves and sons Allen and Tyler have spent a lot of money in recent years on additional grain bins, center pivot systems, trucks and trailers to haul grain, and other equipment — and they’re considering the purchase of a new module builder cotton picker.

But, they see these expenditures as investments that allow them to increase efficiency, boost yields, reduce costs, and importantly, free up more time for family, community service, and other activities.

And with 4,500 acres of corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat on their farms near Ripley, Miss., time is a commodity to be carefully managed.

“We’ve got probably 100 fields,” Mike says. “They range from as small as one acre to the largest that’s 140 acres. But they are mostly all contiguous, along the Tippah River bottom, so we’re not spread out all over creation.

“Our bottomland soils are as good as any Delta ground from a production standpoint. If we get enough rain, it’s no problem to make 50-bushel beans and 150-bushel corn. Three years ago, we averaged 165 bushels on our corn and 1,000 pounds of cotton. We’ve got only about 200 acres of less productive hill land.”

By adding center pivot systems, the Graveses have achieved even better yields. With a new 103-acre system now being installed, they will have three pivots, all Valley, in operation this year, watering about 400 acres. Two are fed from creeks, the new one from a well drilled to 280 feet.

The new pivot could have watered 107 acres, Allen laughs, “if Dad had agreed to cut a big oak tree on the edge of the field.” Mike responds: “That tree’s nearly a hundred years old and has always been ‘eating lunch tree.’  I just didn’t have the heart to cut it.”

Corn under the first pivot they installed brought a 75-bushel yield increase, Mike says. “With that kind of yield bump and good corn prices, we figure we can pay for a pivot in three years, compared to the normally-projected payback of five years.

“Last year, soybeans under our second pivot had a 20-25 bushel yield increase. We’re going to try cotton under one of the pivots this year to see how much irrigation will improve yield. We hope to see as much as a bale per acre increase.”

 “We’re looking at adding a pivot every year over the next five or 10 years,” Allen says. “My brother, Tyler, has drawn circles all over our aerial field maps where systems could be located. We figure we can install 50-acre pivots and make them pay, even with relatively low water volume. With our field configurations, the most we could water would be about 1,500 acres.”

 “Last year was quite dry,” Mike says, “and we pumped a lot of water. The diesel engines on the 200-acre system, which is fed from a creek, ran for 395 hours. The equipment and infrastructure for that pivot, including 1,800 feet of underground pipe, was quite expensive, but we still project a quick payoff.

“We had to build 25 bridges to accommodate the wheel tracking for one of the systems, and 15 for another. We make the bridges ourselves; we’re all pretty good welders.

“And we’re constantly installing pipes to facilitate drainage from our fields — it’s a never-ending process. But even though most of our land is in the river bottom, we almost never have any overflow. An exception was the year we got a 12-inch rain.”