Drip Tape Boosts Yield on Areas Pivots Can’t Reach
Calling drip tape a “beautiful addition” to his irrigation program, Dale Ockels says it has allowed him to grow high-quality crops in areas of fields that are inaccessible to pivot irrigation.
“Our yields on drip tape are right up there with pivots,” Ockels says. “There’s no yield lag, no issues in that way at all.”
Ockels is one of three brothers running the farm started by his father in the 1940s in Milton, DE. Ockels Farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat on nearly 4,000 acres. They do a strong rotation of half corn and half beans, although half of the soybeans are a double crop behind winter wheat, he says.
Ockels began using drip tape, specifically Rivulis T-Tape, five years ago on a small, 28-acre field. Because most farmers in his area did not use drip tape, he turned to local retailer Vincent Farms for advice. The company’s recommendation was T-Tape, and it provided expertise throughout the installation process.“That first T-Tape system has been in for five years and we’ve had great experience with it,” Ockels says. “Since then, we’ve put in more systems, and our T-Tape acreage is producing just as well as the acres with the pivots. We’ve lost no yield and are really happy with it.”
Drip Tape Fits Anywhere
The light sandy soil at his farm makes irrigation necessary for a good yield, Ockels says. And he was losing yield in the corners of square fields where the circular pattern of the pivot couldn’t reach, or in small or odd-shaped fields.
“Drip tape will go anywhere and fit into any situation as far as we’ve been able to see,” Ockels says. “Our T-Tape systems have taken corners where we were lucky to get 100 bushels of corn to now, where we can get more than 200 bushels without any issues at all.”
Making the acreage more productive benefits the larger community as well, Ockels says. He rents a lot of his land, and the amount of rent is based on bushels per acre. With the T-Tape allowing Ockels to use nearly every piece of land and get a better return, he pays a higher rent. “So the whole circle of us is happier,” he says.
Ockels says he does quite a bit of fertigation through his pivot systems and is also doing it through the T-Tape. While you have to be more particular about the products you use in drip tape, he says, it works well.
Installation is Simple and Affordable
Ockels was also pleased with the cost of installation and the ease of the process itself.
“Installation is no more of a problem than any other irrigation,” he says. “If you’ve got a good dealer, which we do, and a good support system with that dealer, they handle all of that. For us there were no issues with the installation, and it was a big selling point to have Vincent Farms there to take care of us.
“The installation cost is very similar to pivot. Obviously, the bigger a pivot is, the cheaper it is per acre, and that’s not necessarily true with drip tape. But again, we’re not working on big acreages. We’re doing those corners where we couldn’t do anything with a pivot. In the smaller fields drip tape is a better investment per acre because you get all of the acres. For us, it’s been a good investment.”
Find Yield in Your Field by Adding Drip Tape
By using drip tape to irrigate odd-shaped fields and corners pivots can’t reach, Dale Ockels has boosted the yield on relatively unproductive land to equal that of his other fields.
“We’re on light sandy soil out here, and we have to have water on it to make it do much,” Ockels says. “For years we have used pivot irrigation, and it really works well. But any place you can’t do a pivot, you can go in with a tape system and make that work really well.”
Ockels and his two brothers own and operate Ockels Farm in Milton, DE, and grow corn, soybeans and wheat on nearly 4,000 acres. Their father started the business in the 1940s. Ockels is really pleased with the results of his Rivulis T-Tape system, saying it is a perfect complement to the pivots he has always used.
“Our T-Tape systems have taken corners where we were lucky to get 100 bushels of corn to where we can get more than 200 bushels without any issues at all,” Ockels says. “We can do those same yields with a pivot in the rest of the field, but we could never do it in these corners and small fields.”
Ockels and his brothers were confident enough in their system that they dedicated a smaller field that was exclusively irrigated with T-Tape as an entry in the National Corn Growers Yield Contest. In 2012 and 2014 they won top irrigation yield for Delaware in this contest.
“Last year, all from a T-Tape system, we took 317 bushels of dry corn, “Ockels says. “ We can do the same yields on [fields where we can use a] center pivot, but the benefit for us is these are fields where we can’t use a pivot. So we are now increasing our yields in corners and small fields to the levels of the larger fields where we are using pivots.”
Installation Is Straightforward
Because Ockels didn’t have prior experience with drip tape, when he started researching the topic five years ago, he turned to local dealer Vincent Farms for advice. Steve Williams of Vincent Farms recommended the Rivulis T-Tape system and oversaw the whole installation process. Ockels started small, with just a 28-acre field. He says the installation was straightforward, but points out his farm is 100-percent no-till.
“The subsurface tape is actually plowed in like you would plow in electric wires,” he says. “The tape is 15 to 16-inches deep, so you can’t do deep tillage with underground tape. The feed lines and flush lines are PVC pipe and are down deep enough they don’t freeze. The tape is no issue; it drains and water settles out of it over winter.
An additional benefit, especially for those in drought-stressed regions, is that there is little, if any, water lost through evaporation, since everything is below ground.
Maintenance is Minimal
Maintenance isn’t particularly difficult either, Ockels says. It’s important to make sure someone walks the fields to look for leaks or clogged nozzles.
“With pivots, you can see a broken nozzle from a distance,” he says. “With T-Tape, you’ve got to get out there and walk the fields and manage it. You can’t just put it underground and forget it. But if you have to patch it, it’s just a 10-minute job. Other than walking the field to find these areas, it’s not much time.”
Ockels is hoping his T-Tape systems will last at least 20 years, and says because it has been a good investment for Ockels Farm, they plan to keep installing more.
“We’ve still got a lot of small fields and corners, so we intend to keep putting more T-Tape in,” Ockels says. “But if you go to the bank and talk about irrigation, they’re ready to go there with you, because there’s a return on irrigation. Make sure you have a good dealer and support system, and then make sure you have a good product. Then look for those odd corners and odd-shaped fields and make it work. It’ll work.”
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