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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Poly-pipe is improvement for farmers

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Nathan Holmes of Holmes Farms stands with a starter-pipe near a pallet of used and unused poly-pipe rolls
(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
SIKESTON - "Disposable" usually means "not as good," but when it comes to furrow irrigation, polyethylene irrigation tubing is a big improvement over what farmers used to use.

The Vanduser Gin Co. has offered poly-pipe for its customers as an alternative to aluminum-gated pipe irrigation since it became available around here nearly 15 years ago, according to Jimmy Johnson, manager.

"It's a service to our customers," he said. "And I also use it - I'm a farmer too."

Poly-pipe is sold in quarter-mile lengths. "We sell from 12-inch to 18-inch in diameter," said Johnson. Which diameter depends on "the volume your well puts out and personal preference."

Aluminum-gated irrigation pipes, usually 8 or 10 inches in diameter, were purchased with gates placed between 19 and 38 inches apart. "About 19 was the average, the normal," Johnson said. "Conversely, with poly-pipe you punch a hole wherever you want it."

At up over $2 per foot, aluminum-gated pipe is more expensive running roughly $3,000 for a quarter mile, as compared with about $165 for the same length of poly-pipe.

"The bad part about it was they got to where they leaked very badly. Efficiency was very low, and maintenance was very high," Johnson recalled of the gated pipes. "Plus labor expense was very high. You had to move it from field to field."

Once available, poly-pipe pretty much caught on right away. "Over 90 percent of furrow irrigation around here is done with poly-pipe," Johnson said.

"It cuts out a lot of labor," agreed Edward Dement, a Sikeston farmer. Dement also changed to poly-pipe when it became available in the late '80s, having used aluminum-gated pipes before then.

"We had to change gates twice a day," Dement recalled. Changing the gates took two people so water pressure could be controlled as one gate was closed and another opened.

Using poly-pipe, "we just roll it out, punch holes in it and tie a knot at the end," Dement said.

With a good well, a quarter-mile stretch can be irrigated all at once where it might have taken four different gate settings to water the same stretch with aluminum gated pipes. "You would have to do it in sections," Dement said.

Johnson said the yearly cost of replacing the gates and gasket on gated pipes runs nearly as much as purchasing a season's worth of poly-pipe. "It's so much more efficient than gated pipe," Johnson said. "And you don't damage your crops with leaks like you do with gated pipes."

The efficiency is another reason poly-pipe is so popular. Poly-pipe is cheaper to operate not only because it saves labor, but it uses less fuel to operate well pumps as well.

"You can run your pump slower," Dement said. With no gates and gaskets, the interior is smoother. With less friction, the pumps don't have to work as hard, he explained. "And you're not losing water through leaking gates, leaking gaskets."

Dement said another advantage to using poly-pipe is with crops like cotton in which they have to go back through the fields with spray applications, they don't even have to move the poly-pipe but can run right over it, going back to patch or splice in replacement sections for any tears that happen. If you run a tire over gated aluminum pipe, on the other hand, you end up with scrap aluminum.

With its low cost, poly-pipe is generally designed for only a single season of use.

"It's disposable - you can hardly reuse it," said Johnson. "When you pick it up you take it back for recycling."

Most recycling drop-off sites, such as the one for Scott County residents behind McMullin's Mini Mart on Highway 61 near Morley, require the pipe to be rolled back up when dropped off.