Thursday, May 13, 2021

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Garden Tips: Tractors and Irrigation

Greetings everyone and thanks for your continued following. I hope all are well and ready for the garden season.

This week I will touch on some new technology; not so much for the homeowner but for those folks who keep us all fed: the farmers and ranchers of South Dakota and beyond. Then I will share some ideas about irrigation for the home gardener.

Tractor Technology

Tractors, like other types of diesel equipment, have faced new challenges in the past few years with increased emissions regulation and there is a push to end the use of diesel equipment. In Europe there are actually mandated end-of-use dates for some trucks and machinery.

Solutions are underway and in the small to mid-size tractor, the electric tractor is here. The next challenge is to make the technology work for large farms with fields in excess of 100 acres.

There are a few current options available for mid-size tractors that reduce fuel consumption by 50% using diesel/electric technology. The diesel engine is only used for powering the electric motors that run the machine. This technology has been around for a while but is only now becoming available in farm equipment. It has been in use for quite some time and is tried and tested in earth-moving equipment. Kubota is now working on farm models that use only electric power but these are not in the U.S. yet.

Solo Trac is a company now offering fully electric tractors in the 50-horsepower range and Monarch is a company offering farm tractors in the 70-horsepower range, with the added bonus of ROS and GPS technology that allows for planting, spraying and harvesting to be done more efficiently; thereby saving fuel and wear. And you don’t need to be on the tractor as it follows a programmed application.

The electric tractor is said to cut maintenance and down-time to almost zero since there is no friction taking place. The attachments still need to be maintained, but the tractor itself is designed to free up time for other work. Some models also offer sensors to create weather and soil forecasts just for your land by constantly monitoring weather conditions, testing soil for temperature and moisture content, and storing the data for year over year forecasting of weather and soil conditions for more accurate seeding, spraying and harvesting plans.

I am not personally saying it’s time to retire your tractor, but as the need for new equipment arises, making the switch to electric models (at least in theory) should save on product use and labor, increasing the bottom line. Also consider, as more and trucks become electric the price of diesel will rise due to lower demand. So making the switch before the cost of fuel is more than the cost of new equipment is a good move in my thoughts.


We have seen the return of severe drought conditions this past year. Depending on your school of thought this is either climate change or a recurring pattern. I do believe it is climate change as the science shows that while some areas will be wetter and colder early on, and others will be warmer and dryer, the trend will be a planet we can no longer survive on unless changes are made. With this school of thought the need for conservation needs to be implemented on the homeowner level as well as the commercial level. Irrigation with conservation is now becoming affordable and available for every application.

Irrigation systems with computer-controlled valves

The technology for computer-controlled lawn and garden irrigation systems, along with home weather stations that work in tandem with watering clocks, has been around for over twenty years. It’s only in the last few years that the combined systems have been accurate and affordable for everyone. The newer clock and weather monitoring systems, that also integrate soil monitors, are now about 95% accurate and adjustments can even be made while you are away from home with smart phone apps. These systems only water when your plants really need it, saving water over time.

For those of you who are green thumbs and are into the latest technology, there are also wireless sprinkler valves that are also solar powered. Your clock is not in a fixed location but is handheld or works with your phone. A small solar panel is needed for each valve and can be set on bird feeders or hidden in water features or other things in the landscape. These also work with weather stations and soil moisture sensors, so you are only watering when needed. These options cost thousands at one time, but a system can now be installed on your own for less than a thousand. saving you about $150 per year in water bills. Rainbird and Hunter Irrigation are the leaders in this technology.

In many cities and towns water is no longer seen as an infinite resource but has limits, and cities will run out if additional conservation measures are not implemented. One of these measures is large scale rainwater catchment for irrigation use. The other is integrated grey water systems hooked into the sprinkler system, or standalone grey water systems that water only the large trees or specific landscape beds. Rainwater systems can be very expensive to run on a homeowner’s scale, but grey water systems can be installed for less than $300 and still give the option of sending grey water to the sewer if your garden does not need any water or your grey water drain field is peaked at the moment.

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