Large California Vegetable Grower Says John Deere Water System Provides Many Benefits
As production manager at Sea Mist Farms in California’s Salinas Valley, Chris Drew is a man on the move. That’s because he’s in charge of over 5,000 acres of a wide variety of mixed greens and other vegetables—including close to 3,000 acres of their signature crop, artichokes—and that acreage is spread out over 18 ranches.
Drew knows that being in charge of production means he’s responsible for having correct soil moisture levels. A year ago, before they had a John Deere Water drip irrigation and soil monitoring system installed, Drew was constantly out in the fields. He needed to know what’s going on in the root zone, after all, and artichokes have roots that extend down two to three feet.
“Before (we had the John Deere Water system), to go down to 40 inches, you’d have to be out there for 45 minutes or an hour,” he says. “Now I get those readings every 30 minutes every single day of the year.”
Even better, he doesn’t even have to go into the field to get the readings. He can get them off the PC in his office, or more likely, from the laptop in his pickup. “It’s great because it’s giving us information on what’s going on in the soil—in real time—down to 40 inches,” he says, “so we really know what’s going on with the plants.”Drew says that like everyone else today he’s working harder, so he appreciates the fact that he’s getting more efficient every day. “Once I have the baselines, I can basically feel the soil by just looking at my computer—or my smart phone.”
Now he can apply water—and even include fertilizer—with pinpoint accuracy. In addition, he can irrigate even in high winds, and the breezes can blow pretty strong in the coastal valley. Also, unlike with sprinklers, he’s not applying water to the foliage, helping to avoid the spread of fungal pathogens that can cause diseases and ruin crops.
Sea Mist isn’t the only one who benefits, says Drew. The John Deere Water system provides significant benefits to the environment at large. “It’s also improved our conservation efforts, because we don’t apply water we don’t need,” he says, “and we don’t run the pumps for extra hours, saving on electricity.”
Those conservation efforts pay off in real dollars as the cost of electricity and water, especially in drought-prone California, continues to rise. Besides saving Sea Mist in those two areas, the John Deere Water system will also pay off in other ways, says Drew.
Perhaps the most significant is in labor. Before the system was installed, Sea Mist spent countless man-hours moving irrigation pipes around, he says. The John Deere Water system also saves Sea Mist in other ways. The system’s pinpoint accuracy doesn’t just improve the quality of the crops; it ensures that no fertilizer is wasted. Every ounce of fertilizer is applied directly to the root zone.
It also saves in another way that Drew hadn’t considered before the system was installed. As mentioned above, they used to apply free water over the foliage with sprinklers, which could promote fungal pathogen development, potentially hurting quality. By applying water to the root zone, they’re less prone to such pathogens so they don’t have to apply as many increasingly costly fungicides.
“Yes, the upfront cost of the system is a significant investment, but the upfront costs will be far outweighed over time,” he says. “Sometimes it’s economical to spend money, because you reap benefits in the long run.”
Also, with the help of John Deere Water staff, you can tailor a system to your operation. “You don’t have to Cadillac it if you don’t need to because the folks at Deere will help you figure out exactly what you need,” he says.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the John Deere Water field representatives aren’t focused on getting a commission, says Drew. “The guys who come out aren’t just salesmen,” he says. “They have real expertise in how these units work – some are even growers themselves.”
From the beginning, when the John Deere Water representatives came out to take soil samples and set up baseline moisture levels, Drew says they’ve exceeded his expectations. He worried he might not see them much again after that, but that feeling didn’t last long.
“In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to get a call from them asking about a (soil moisture) level they find unusual,” he says. “They dispatch someone if there’s no response (from a moisture sensor) or there’s an odd reading. John Deere Water provides the most reliable integrated Ag water management solutions with superior channel partners to growers that want to optimize operations and output.