Farmer saw technology he needed while looking out of an airplane
NAPANEE — Max Kaiser hopes to potentially hit 300 bushels-per-acre corn on his family’s Napanee-area farm this year with a tried-and-true technology that’s otherwise rare to see in Eastern Ontario: centre-pivot irrigation.
The gargantuan systems have made inroads in Southwestern Ontario and are especially common in the Canadian prairies and American midwest. At the heart of each unit is one long metal tube, a kind-of long, skinny metal arm carrying a series of sprinklers held high above the ground by metal tripods on wheels. Pivoting from a concrete centrepoint, the 2,500-ft. long arm slowly makes a circle like the rotating minute hand on a clock. Hundreds of acres can be irrigated over a series of days, creating a lush circular crop formation visible from miles above.
It was while flying over Alberta on his way to the Calgary Stampede in 2018 that Kaiser, looking down at the green circles on the landscape below, concluded the technology was the perfect fit for a 520-acre portion of Kaiser Lake Farm. The operation is located in a region of Ontario that’s notoriously “rainfall deficient” from a grower’s perspective, but abuts Hay Bay — an inlet off the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario — just east of Prince Edward County.
“I thought to myself … we’ve got all this water, why aren’t we using it?” the 52-year-old cash-cropper and egg producer told Farmers Forum. “Why aren’t we taking advantage of that water right there and bumping our crops?”
He added, “It took a couple years to get here, but here we are. We’ve got our son and daughter on the farm with us — 2 of our 3 kids — so I’m being a little aggressive right now and investing for their future.”
That investment is “approaching” $750,000, he said, including about $265,000 for the in-field irrigation equipment plus the construction of facilities to electrically pump water from the bay through 4,000 feet of buried 10-inch polyethylene pipe that meanders around some obstacles on its way to the pivot point. A generator at the pivot will power the pumphouse installed 3,000 feet away as the crow flies, sending 1,000 U.S. gallons (3,785 litres) per minute into the system and out the overhead sprinklers along the irrigation arm. Travelling on a dozen rubber-tired wheels also powered by the generator, the arm will deliver a half-inch of water on 520 acres as it slowly completes one full rotation every four days.
Kaiser expects the system to pay for itself in 5 to 8 years, assuming the dry trend in his area continues, and he’s certain it will. “From my perspective, it’s all about the difference in the yield I would have had versus the yield I will have and then attributing it only to that 520 acres,” he explained. Payback could be even quicker in a year with a “whopper of a difference” in yield between irrigated versus non irrigated crops. He suggested a 150 bu/ac difference in corn or a 70 bu/ac difference in wheat “would be pushing a $200,000 gain.”
The contrast will be easy to measure, as only half of the farm’s tillable acres fall within the irrigator’s coverage area. He grows corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers and isn’t changing his rotation or field layout. The unit will simply make its way over existing fields, with some fields being partly in and partly out of the spray. It’s been located to make the biggest circle possible on the farm, and this year, “a good percentage of corn” will fall under the irrigator’s arm.
Kaiser also explained that the investment is a more sensible way of producing bigger crop revenues without buying costly farmland. “Land is expensive, and the land near us isn’t great and would need tile drainage and clearing and improvement. Better to “invest in irrigation and take half my acres to another level,” he said.