It’s a hot day with clear skies some seven miles east of Hamburg, Ark., and 15 miles north of the Louisiana border. Nursing a bottle of water and settled in for interview, Kyle Harriman gets a phone call. An employee is hopelessly stuck and needs rescuing from heavy mud. Harriman shrugs his shoulders, smiles and says, “I’ll be right back.”
Half an hour later, he returns still smiling. There’s a reason: Harriman really likes farming. “I love what I do and have my grandfather to thank. It’s so hard for a youngster to get started in farming anymore.”
Having studied computer science at the University of Southern Mississippi, Harriman could be sitting in sweet air wearing boots that aren’t mud-flecked. No thanks, he says. “I would much rather be in a corn field in 100 degree heat than sitting behind a desk.”
It’s been four years since Harriman took over the family acreage. “I was absolutely clueless about farming and before taking the reins, I worked a year with (the farmer who I took over from) and tried to learn everything possible. Also, my farming neighbor Scott Young has been a godsend for me. He’s just a generous man and has taken me under his wing and is always willing to help. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him.
“There’s still plenty to learn but we’re in a lot better shape than we were four years ago.”
Double H Farms has been in the family since the 1950s. Kyle is the oldest grandson of C.B. and Shirley Harriman. His father, Steven, recently retired from Georgia Pacific, also helps on the 1,300-acre where they grow wheat, soybeans and corn.
Mr. C.B. Harriman’s funeral was held a week ago, on July 5.
“It was really nice for Dad because he had no idea someone with his last name would come back home to farm,” says Steven. “He got to follow Kyle’s progress for four years before passing. Dad was very proud of that. Even when he wasn’t well, I’d bring him over and he’d check out the crops and stay involved.”
And if you consider the farm’s physical progression, he still is.
“Many years ago, Dad told me he thought tailwater recovery would work well here,” says Steven. “He saw Scott Young’s tailwater reservoirs and that put a burr under his saddle.”
When all the neighboring farms were irrigating, “Dad watched all the water flow down the ditch towards Haley Creek and he would say ‘Man, look how clear that water is. There’s so much water moving through there and we need to catch it.’”
After arriving in southern Arkansas, “that’s one of the first things Kyle wanted to do. Even though it took a couple of years to get through the process, it happened and is working. And it’s working so well we put in for another ditch with the NRCS and hope it is put in next year.
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“It’s kind of funny because for a long time we thought that creek in the middle of the farm was a hindrance, not an advantage. Well, it turned out we were just looking at it wrong.
“Bottom line: if you’ve got a common place on your farm where multiple sources of water come through, consider a tailwater ditch. And the water we’re catching is better water for the crops – it’s warm and doesn’t shock the crop.”
Wanting to take advantage of an NRCS program for young farmers, Kyle approached Mark Robinson and Stephanie Priest, the local NRCS district conservationist. “We thought it would work because of the set-up; there’s a drainage creek that basically runs through the middle of our farm,” says Steven.
Sure enough, the project “fit the bill,” says Robinson, who is based out of Monticello, Ark. “There’s 2,000 acres of drainage water coming through the ditch. At first, we knew there was enough water but the ditch was a question because of the amount of water that flowed through it.
“What ended up happening is we dug the pit eight feet below the existing ditch – just went down. That means none of the drainage coming through was affected. Normally, we try to take advantage of what’s already in the landscape. In this case, though, we couldn’t do that for fear of backing up water.”
In the end, the project had a 15-foot bottom to it with two-to-one side slopes.
Electricity over diesel
The original plan was to put in a diesel power unit. “We did some checking, and decided to go with a variable speed electric unit, which has proven much more cost efficient,” says Steven.
Going electric “was a good idea because the pump ended up being placed in the middle of the pit on the low end of the field,” says Robinson. “It would have been tough getting diesel to that location. So, it worked out great.
“It’s an 1,800-gallon per minute pump. We ran 12-inch pipelines and tied into two different irrigation pipelines on the east and west sides of the farm.”
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So far, “we’ve barely run the three wells this year,” says Steven. “We have three 40-horse submersible wells and we really didn’t know what volume of water they pumped.
“With this variable-speed electric motor we can control it to handle anywhere from 700 gallons per minute up to 2,000 gallons per minute.”
The Harrimans ran poly pipe like they have the past three years with the existing wells. “We turned the new reservoir pump down to 700/800 gallons per minute to punch the pipe,” says Steven. “It turned out that’s what the (older) pumps were pushing through. We’re capable of watering approximately 160 acres with the new reservoir pump. We are watering (that acreage) in half the time with half as many runs because of so much more volume.”
And a big bonus showed up when the electricity bill arrived. “It was about 20 to 25 percent of the cost of wells watering other parts of the farm. We’re drawing 13-foot-deep tailwater versus pulling water from 60 to 80 feet, or deeper.”
How is water situation in the area?
“The water tables are steady around here, thankfully,” says Steven. “We measure wells every fall and spring. There may be a fluctuation of a foot, or so. We haven’t run into groundwater issues yet.”
Robinson has found farmers like the Harrimans “are becoming more conscientious about surface water. I’m seeing lots more reservoirs, tailwater ditches and the like going in. if they can take a bit of pressure off their wells, it saves a lot of money.
“The pits don’t mean you can always get completely away from your wells. You may have to turn the wells on some but it cuts way down on that. Pump water to the top of the field and that run-off heads down to the pit where it’s picked up and pumped again.”
The Harrimans have an additional six wells above the pit. “We’re now catching some of the water off three neighboring farms, as well,” says Steven. “It just makes good sense to put the system in.”
What was the timeline for the project?
“We put in for this project in January 2015 and were approved for it in the summer. The (NRCS) plans were done that spring. They shot all the grades, figured out where the culverts would go and the rest. The contractor began work last October and finished this January.”
The program – cost assistance under EQIP – that Kyle tapped into is for new and beginning farmers. The cutoff for a new farmer is 10 years in the business and new farmers get a higher percentage of cost assistance.
“It’s a good idea and there are a lot of young farmers taking advantage of the program,” says Robinson. “We’ve got a few cattlemen in the mix but it’s mostly row-crop farmers.
“People interested in this program should go to their local NRCS office and put in an application under EQIP. Once that’s in, the applications are ranked and then approved down the list until the allocated funds run out.
“Normally, you’ll find out if your project was approved in April or May. You have three years to complete it. Within one year, you have to complete one segment of the project.”
For reference, the Harrimans had four segments: the pumping station, the irrigation piping, the pit and drainage.
“Another project in Desha County was on a 640-acre rice farm,” says Robinson. “It has zero wells, all surface water. We put in an 80-acre reservoir, land-leveled, put pipes in, 15-inch line. Now, four pumps are pumping surface water and it costs $11 an acre to water.”
The trend in this area of the world is to take advantage of the blessing of ample surface water. “Head north just a little ways – say north Arkansas County or Prairie County – and their water situation is very shaky,” says Robinson. “In this area of the state, we have wells pumping 2,000 gallons per minute to 2,500 gallons per minute. The farmers are looking at the surface water as abundant and a cheaper source.”