One Pass

Southern Idaho brothers innovate to save money

Published online: Jun 09, 2009 Feature Tyler Baum, assistant editor
Growers have a myriad of tools in their belts. They can't just know how to grow a crop-they have to be business executives, economists, prognosticators and mechanics.

And sometimes they have to do a little bit of improvising.
Kerry Bowen and Lawrence Gillette of Burley, Idaho, are step-brothers who own and operate Lawkerr Farms. They grow 600 acres of sugarbeets in southern Idaho.

On a clear but breezy spring afternoon, the brothers survey the field they've nearly completed. The untouched portion of the field is filled with volunteer grain in the first stages of emergence. It will only take one or two passes to finish fertilizing. And strip-tilling. And planting sugarbeets-all in one pass.

With the economy the way it is, every action a grower can take to cut unnecessary costs is welcome. Recently, Kerry and Lawrence decided to consolidate trips across the field by modifying their implements. Kerry recently "married" his strip-tiller and a 12-row planter together using an old Spudnik potato planter.

Their Case IH MX240 tractor with triples has a Trimbolt GPS guidance system, making rows straighter than ever and requiring no pre-marker. With the fertilizer tank hanging securely on the front, the brothers now are saving diesel fuel as well as time.

"It used to take four to six passes to prepare for planting. Now we're doing it in one pass," Lawrence says.
"Forty to $50 an acre is probably what it's going to save us," Kerry says.


Handling Wind

"This ground is so sandy, it blows easily," Lawrence says.
In an area where beets need to be planted with the direction of the wind so the wind won't blow the sand across the rows and expose the beets, growers must proactively protect their crop from this nuisance they can't control.

The volunteer grain popping up prior to planting actually becomes a welcome sight. Because the sugarbeets are Roundup-ready, simply spraying the field with Roundup will kill the grain but not phase the beets. This winter, straw from previous years and debris from volunteer grain and grazing cattle will protect the sandy soil from harsh Idaho wind.

Once spring comes around, clumps of debris are easily pushed aside with the strip-tiller to make a perfect bed for beets to be planted. The debris once again protects the soil from blowing away.

Once harvest is over this year, Kerry plans on taking this equipment back into their shop to modify it some more-in order to remove the extensions.
"We're learning a lot," Kerry says.