Story by Tyler J. Baum
Photos courtesy of Tim Hall, Nelson Irrigation
Jon Johnston knows how to save water for potato growers.
The problem is getting the word out.
Last month, Johnston, along with University of Idaho Extension Water Management Engineer Howard Neibling, made their case at the Idaho Irrigation Equipment Show and Conference in Nampa. They explained why growers need booms on their center pivots. However, because the Potato Expo was running concurrently in Las Vegas, many growers may have missed out.
Johnston, owner of Irrigation Accessories Company (IACO), based out of the Vancouver, Wash., reiterates what Dr. Neibling has said about the trend of Idaho growers neglecting the option of attaching booms on their pivots—it’s “a real concern.”
Carrot Solution = Potato Solution
Johnston, who has run Irrigation Accessories since 2005, says they’ve been manufacturing their signature “boombacks” for about two decades. These booms spread the same amount of water over a bigger area—giving the ground time to absorb it, which lowers the instantaneous application rate.
In 2005, IACO was approached by carrot growers to help them solve a carrot germination problem. Because carrot seeds are planted just below the soil surface, growers were finding that, under pivots, many of the seeds were washing away before germination. IACO became part of a project, along with Valmont Industries, to solve the problem. With their Innovative Boom Technology, using Hose Booms, they did.
As a result, they began selling booms to carrot growers in California as well as in Washington state. After three years, Johnston decided to interview these carrot growers to see how the Hose Booms had been working out for them. What he discovered is that not only did their Hose Booms solve the carrot germination problem, but it was reported to Johnston that it gave carrot growers a 33 percent water savings.
“That came from the growers,” he says. “We increased their yield, crop quality, increased uniformity and all but eliminated run-off.”
Because Johnston wanted more than just anecdotal evidence, he recruited the help of University of California-Davis researchers Andre Biscarro and Blake Sandon to conduct a study to discover the hard data.
The three of them worked with Nelson Irrigation and Valmont Industries, along with a large California carrot operation—until they hit a snag. Because the carrot industry is extremely competitive, growers want to keep any and all trade secrets from their competitors. Two weeks out from the start of the study, the grower realized how in-depth the study was—and pulled out.
“This was two weeks away from the start of the study. We had everything lined up, we had the machine picked out, and they pulled out,” he says.
Whereas carrot growers are extremely secretive about any advantages they may have, Johnston wants the opposite.
“I want everybody to know what’s going on,” he says. “It tells me that it must really work if they were that worried about having that data released, because the researchers would’ve published it.”
He’s currently working with Dr. Troy Peters of the University of Washington and Bradley A. King, Research Agricultural Engineer, USDA ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soil Research Laboratory, on a study beginning this spring.
While Johnston was giving a 20-minute presentation at a pivot school one year for Nelson Irrigation, Neibling was in the audience. He approached Johnston and told him that Idaho growers’ trending away from using booms on pivots was “a real concern.”
Johnston says, “He thinks there’s going to be a problem down the road that people just aren’t paying attention to now, just to save the cost.”
Neibling says that the industry has fluctuated through cycles in using booms with low-pressure systems. The present trend away from them isn’t a good thing, he says.
“I think that's not the best direction to be going.”
Neibling strongly supports using booms on medium- and heavy-textured soils, particularly high-silt soils, which have a tendency to form a surface seal. When soil crusts over, water is prevented from effectively soaking through. That crust needs to be broken up for water to effectively soak in, but won’t because tillage is finished until after harvest.
“Once that crust forms, it's there for the rest of the year,” he says. “Then you've got reduced intake problems for the rest of the year. And so, ideally, it would be nice to delay that surface-seal formation as long as possible in the year or, ideally, to prevent it completely.”
What booms do, Neibling says, is spread the water pattern out—particularly at the outer end of the pivot—so the application rate is low enough for the soil to soak in the water. Preventing runoff not only saves water, but it also saves money when chemigating or fumigating.
“I see booms as one of a number of tools to save water and any nutrients that are being applied,” he says. “If you have a soil that you can put all the water you want on without any runoff, then you don't really need booms. But if you have a soil that tends to crust over, and you'd really like to get more water on per revolution without runoff, it's a very good part of your toolkit. I don’t believe that from what I’ve seen, we can just quit using booms, particularly on some soils.”
Neibling says that typically, you only would put the booms on the outer three or four spans of a quarter-mile pivot because that's the point the water application radius is higher than what the soil will typically take.
Irrigation Accessories’ Boombacks started with what they called the Idaho Boom, because most of them were sold in Idaho. They’ve continued to release new, better and rust-proof booms over the years, including the Alumi Boom and the Hose Boom.
Engineered to work with the latest advances in pivot technology, Hose Booms are built with a solid, rigid construction, utilizing high-tensile strength tubing and lined with the best hose-drop material available. The Hose Booms’ tubing is superior galvanizing on the outside, with a lightweight, non-corrosive hose on the inside.
The original Hose Boom was only high enough to work for carrots, which is why IACO developed the Hose Boom 15—higher in the air and adapted to work with any spray head out there. As a matter of fact, The IACO Hose Boom is the only boom recommended by Nelson Irrigation for use with the Part-Circle Rotator.
Johnston’s tagline for the Hose Boom is: One Boom Does it All.
“Once the Hose Boom started selling, we thought we had solved all issues ever associated with booms, but a grower in Australia contacted Lindsay Manufacturing and wanted to use Nelson’s Part-Circle Rotators on Hose Booms to keep the wheel tracks dry.” A Part-Circle sprinkler has side-force and cannot hang on a hose. “Working with Lindsay, we reversed-engineered the Hose Boom, which led to the development of the Side-Force Control Fitting and Torque Clip. Those two items make the Hose Boom the most adaptable boom on the market.
“If you want to use a Part-Circle Rotator on it, you can. If you want to hang a piece of hose, you can use any of the sprinklers out there, even if they have vibration. And if you want to use it in low-crop, or out crops, we make a square fitting that allows you to change the height with no wrenches.”
Until growers begin trending back toward using booms, Johnston and Neibling will continue seeking to educate growers.
“I believe one of the reasons growers in Idaho have turned away from booms is because they have had problems,” Johnston says. “When I first started developing the Hose Boom, I thought of any complaints I’ve ever heard about booms, and I tried to solve every one of those. I think we did a good job.”