Parrish potato farmer installs new-wave irrigation system

Parrish's Alan Jones switches to electric-powered system

nwilliams@bradenton.comJune 9, 2012 

PARRISH -- Alan Jones, president and owner of Jones Potato Farm in Parrish, understands companies will have to attempt to do more with less in today's economy.

With that idea in mind, Jones was determined to find cost-effective ways to run his farm, like switching from a fuel irrigation system to an electrical one.

In December, after research and deliberation, his farm began using an electric central pivot irrigation system to water an array of crops.

In the pivot method of crop irrigation, equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers.

Until the change, Jones' farm used a seepage irrigation system where soil was flooded to keep it moist.

"It required too much water." Jones said. "It was 50 percent inefficient, at best."

The installation of the pivot system cost Jones more than $2 million but through a program with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, he was reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost. With his new irrigation system, Jones expects to save 1,336,300 gallons of water per day, according to district spokeswoman Robyn Felix.

"We eliminate run-off, eliminate pollution at diesel sites, air pollution from exhaust and noise pollution from the diesel pump," Jones said.

Lindsay Corp., a Nebraska-based company which manufactures the pivot irrigation systems, uses a variable frequency drive to power equipment that waters Jones' crops. The system comes with wireless management to allow Jones and his staff to monitor the irrigation via smart phone or personal computer.

"I can get the upmost efficient irrigation with the touch of a finger," he said.

A few years ago, Jones entertained the idea of a pivot irrigation system after discovering it was used by other potato farms across the country. As a test run, Jones invested $100,000 in a pivot system on a 120-acre field the company owned.

Jones was instantly satisfied.

"We were having huge water savings, up to 70 percent," he said.

Soon, Jones set out to install more pivot systems and set up meetings with the water management district and Lindsay Corp. The design was performed by Lovett Irrigation, an independent dealer for Lindsay Corp. located in Homestead. Created in 1981, Lovett Irrigation began selling pivot irrigation systems in 1990 and has since sold hundreds of models. Richard Lovett, president of the company, said Jones' farm was one of its biggest projects.

"The unique thing is we went in at the beginning,"

he said. "We were given a blank slate."

The water management district has reimbursed Jones $1,330,712.57.

Jones also is working with the water district, Lovett Irrigation, Lindsay Corp. and the University of Florida on a study on best management practices for water irrigation on conventional crops.

It will begin this November and run through 2015.

"This is a good gift that's going to keep on giving," Jones said.

Established by his father in the 1960s, Jones Potato Farm consists of 1,850 acres of potatoes, 700 acres of green beans, 250 acres of citrus and a cattle operation.

While some business owners may have hesitated when learning an investment project would exceed $2 million, Jones didn't.

"We've got to be smart and more efficient to be more competitive in the world today, just like any other company," he said.

"I have to remain a valuable company."

Lovett said owners can get payback on their investment within two years.

Jones will begin the second phase of installing electric irrigation systems this fall.

He also is interested in fertigation and chemigation, which would apply fertilizer and chemicals to products through an irrigation system.

"I can't think of any better way to invest than into my own business," Jones said.

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