Wilmington, North Carolina
Samuel P. Hawes IV refers to it as a “partnership” of sorts that makes their system the “ultimate type of treatment” for a landfill. Sam is the manager of the New Hanover County Landfill at Wilmington, North Carolina.
You might not think of landfill operation as exciting, but, that’s not the case when it’s utilizing advanced technology that wins national awards, international attention, and visits from interested officials from as far away as India and Thailand.
Landfill operators almost everywhere are looking for low cost, alternative treatment systems versus conventional treatment methods. New Hanover’s truly cutting edge technology “partnership” landfill system, according to Hawes, is one that effectively and efficiently marries wetlands with sprinkler irrigation.
When it rains, water percolates through the landfill waste and picks up contaminates called leachates. So, like any other waste water, it has to be treated before it can be discharged to surface waters.
Historically, conventional waste water treatment plants do this job but treating nitrogen, especially during the winter, can be a problem. Additionally, a licensed operator has be on duty five days a week, and there’s maintenance on the blower, samples must be taken and submitted to a laboratory for analysis—in short, the plant and its operation is expensive.
Five years ago landfill management decided to try something new in the hope of being able to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the discharge water.
First, rather than operating a waste treatment plant, the raw, untreated leachate is run through wetlands primary “filters”. When it leaves the wetlands the water is basically a low grade liquid fertilizer.
Second, the landfill area is covered with a synthetic liner. After two feet of soil is placed on top, grass is seeded to protect against erosion.
Next, a T-L center-pivot was installed, through which the waste water is applied at a rate such that the soil can assimilate the nutrients. Tests are made to ensure that all the wastewater can be handled without any runoff.
That was the plan, and, “It’s met our expectations,” Hawes reports. The first T-L pivot system covers ten wetted areas on what appears to be a rather steep, 98-foot high hill. A second T-L system put in last year, covers a similar area on another man-made hill nearby.
“We’ve treated approximately seven million gallons of raw leachate with this system that otherwise would have had to be processed through a treatment plant,” Hawes observes. “The county expects significant cost savings in the future.”
“The nitrogen and phosphorous and whatever else was in the leachate would have still gone into the river. So, this is really also a water quality project helping to protect the fresh waters of North Carolina.”
He notes that estimated long term costs of this “partner” system versus conventional treatment will be quite a bit less, too.
At a rate, on average, of 650 tons of waste a day, it’s estimated that the entire landfill area will have another 25 to 30 years of life.
Once the landfill is closed it’s anticipated that it will be made into a park. A conventional treatment system doesn’t lend itself to this kind of conclusion due to costs, noise, and odors.
“We’ve been happy with our T-L pivot systems. There have been no problems at all with them unless you count count a tornado flipping one over,” Hawes says. “However, our dealer was quick to get here and get it running again.”
“In fact,” he continues, “the reason we chose the T-L pivot over its competitors was the hydraulic design. We could also avoid most of the problems that electrically powered systems have with lightning strikes, a frequent occurrence at the landfill.”
“We plan to expand this concept as we close more current landfill sites. So,” Hawes says, “we’ll probably need at least two, maybe three more T-Ls. Once we get to that point we ought to be close to zero discharge into the river.”
Rowland, North Carolina
Even though it’s been nearly four years since he “got rid of tobacco” on his Rowland, North Carolina, farm, Michael “Bo” Stone, says he still doesn’t regret the decision. For one thing, it allowed Stone, who farms approximately 2,300 acres with his wife, Missy, and his parents, Tommy and Bonnie Stone, to buy his first T-L center pivot unit. Basically, the Stones took the money they made from selling their tobacco equipment and invested it in irrigation for their corn and soybean crops.
Equally important, Stone says dropping the labor-intensive crop allows him to spend more time with his family, which includes three children under the age of 13.
“Traditionally,we were a tobacco farm with around 80 to 100 acres in tobacco each year,” Stone relates. “However, it had gotten to where the markets weren’t as good as they once were. And as diversified and ‘hands-on’ as we were, it was getting hard to keep up with everything.
“It got to the point,” he continues, “that my kids would still be in bed when I left in the morning and they’d be back in bed by the time I got home at night. Then I’d get home from church on Sunday and fall asleep in the chair. That’s when I decided something wasn’t right. It’s hard to be both a good tobacco farmer and a good father and husband.”
The winner of the 2010 North Carolina Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award, Stone admits the operation is still pretty diversified with field corn, soybeans, wheat, strawberries and sweet corn, as well as around 70 head of cows and a hog feeding operation that finishes about 10,000 head annually from six barns.
“Our crop mix didn’t change when we dropped tobacco,” he says. “We just took it out of the mix, which not only gave us more time to devote to the other crops, but opened the door to irrigation.”
This year was the first year Stone has had any soybeans under irrigation, but he expects those to benefit as much from the extra water as the corn has after just four years of irrigation. After putting in that first pivot in 2008, Stone has already added four more full- and half-circle pivots, bringing the number of irrigated acres to just over 500.
“We were hit with a couple years of severe drought in this area a while back, so people have been looking for ways to lessen the effects of those times, while also increasing yields on the fields they own,” Stone relates. “Obviously,thejumpinthenumber of irrigated acres in this area has really coincided with the spike in commodity prices.
“On the other hand, I don’t farm anything for crop insurance; I put in the pivots for higher yields and to make money,” he confesses. “Now, is that an added level of insurance for me?” he asks. “Certainly, and barring a hail storm or wind storm, I should always have better yields under irrigation.”
Stone notes that the family’s five-year average on dryland corn has been in the range of 125 to 130 bushels per acre, with dryland soybeans yielding from 30 to 35 bushels/acres. With irrigation, he says, 220 bushels per acre or more in corn is not out of the norm. In fact, last year, they had the highest certified no-till irrigated corn plot in the state at 268 bushels per acre.
“We’ve picked the ‘low-hanging fruit’ first,” he remarks. “That is, we’ve already put T-L pivots on thelargest fields where the cost per acre is the lowest.”
Still, Stone says he is already looking at adding even more T-L pivots next year and hopes to eventually have all of the land that he and his family own under irrigation. If he can work out an agreement, he hopes to add irrigation to some of the land that is under a long-term lease, as well.
Stone isn’t likely to sway away from T-L, though, even if there was a price difference.
“When you find something you like, you tend to stick with it,” he insists. “When we first looked at putting in pivots, we looked at T-L, as well as some of the electric models,” he adds. “But I liked the fact that the T-L didn’t have copper wire running the length of it. I have neighbors who have had serious problems with people stealing the wire off their pivots. So the idea of hydraulic drive in place of electrical components appealed to me.
“After doing a little more research on the T-L, I also liked the more even watering pattern that you get from a constantly moving machine — particularly since we’re using the pivots to apply nitrogen. And I think the reliability of it is very good, as well. We’ve not had any issues at all in that respect.”
Stone says another deciding factor has been Mark Stockton, his T-L dealer in Lumberton, North Carolina. Stone explains that while they started working with Mark at another dealership, they stayed with him when he moved closer and opened his own business under the name, Circle S Irrigation.
“He not only understands irrigation and the fact that the machines need to run when we need them, but he has done a good job of putting together classes to help teach us about irrigation and water management,” Stone adds. “So he has actually helped us to be better stewards of our resources, while being better producers.
“I represent the sixth generation of my family on this farm,” he concludes. “Yet, my goal isn’t any different than it has been for previous generations. That is to produce high-quality food and farm products in a profitable and environmentally responsible manner. We’re just doing it in a little different manner today with the help of irrigation.”
Laurinburg, North Carolina
T-L pivot irrigation systems have many advantages but what makes the Carmichael brothers really keen about their T-Ls is what they don’t have: Copper wire, lots of copper wire that attracts thieves in the night like a bear to honey.
Actually, the root of the problem, brothers Dave and Eddie explain, appears to be the all too prevalent drug culture supporting its needs, and, unfortunately, a goodly number of people in their area spend their night hours stripping copper wire from electric-drive center-pivot sprinklers. They sell the copper wire at $1 a pound, then buy their supply with the ill-gotten gains.
The Carmichaels farm 4,000 acres. And, while cotton is their big crop, they also produce corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, turnips, mustard, collards, and spinach on their Laurinburg, North Carolina, farm. They utilize conventional-till, strip-till, and no-till, depending on the situation.
Eleven months ago they experienced their first “hit”, discovering that one of their electric systems had been divested of all its copper wiring. Replacement cost, (and they don’t carry such insurance), was approximately $1,000 a tower, including wire, labor, and damage to the control box. That was just the start of the problem, since more of their irrigation systems were hit, some repeatedly.
“One time, for example,” Dave reports, we worked two days to replace the copper wire they’d stolen the night before. So, instead of doing all the other work we needed to do, such as ripping the cotton land and working on the planter, we had fix this important center-pivot.”
This particular sprinkler was over spinach. The crop especially needed to receive irrigation, because the weather was so hot that the developing crop had to have water for both better yield and marketable quality.
“We started the system up–and they stole the wire again that night while the system was running!” he adds. “Well, at least they were getting wet the whole time they were stealing the wire.” One possible solution was to make stealing the copper wire so difficult that the thieves wouldn’t put in the necessary effort.
The Carmichaels banded the wire to the pipe.
“Yes, that slowed them down,” Eddie recalls with a grimace. “So, what did they do? The hitched a chain between the wire and a pickup truck, and pulled the wire out. That would have been bad enough, but in the process they also dropped one tower and broke the pipe.”
Next the brothers tried digging ditches around the field and putting up gates. They also invested in a pair of security guards. Finally, they installed satellite phones programmed to call them when any tampering took place so law enforcement could be alerted.
However, by the time they arrived the thieves were always long gone “into the trees”. Frustration! Then the brothers learned there was one center-pivot system that didn’t depend on electric drives to operate: T-L. To date they have installed five T-Ls to accompany their 13 remaining electric units.
“With a T-L we don’t have to worry about all the copper wire being stolen during the night,” Dave comments. “When we go to start up a T-L system, it starts!”