Gravity works: Star Valley irrigators use gravity flow water
Star Valley – In the unique setting in Star Valley, producer Garry Crook says that irrigation has changed over the years, but much of his irrigated land is watered by gravity fed sprinklers.
“On my operation, I’ve got sprinklers, and part of them are gravity flow,” he explains. “Our irrigation district has about 5,000 acres in it, and the intake is from Cottonwood Creek.”
Because the irrigation intake sits about 1,500 feet above the irrigated land, Crook explains that pressure builds while the water is traveling to high enough levels to power sprinklers.
“The water is carried in pipes, and the pressure builds up to sprinkler pressure,” he explains. “The sprinklers also have pressure control valves, so it doesn’t get too high.”
In using gravity-powered sprinklers, producers are able to save money, since they aren’t paying to pump water from ditches or canals.
“There are several fairly large irrigation districts in the valley that use the gravity to power sprinklers.”
He adds that a number of smaller districts have similar systems.
“There is still some flood irrigating going on too, but it’s tricky when you use the canal,” Crook says, adding that some producers still pump water to power their sprinklers.
“The sprinkler system was changed over from flood irrigation to sprinkler systems in 1971,” says Crook of his operation. “We switched because of the efficiency and the increase in crop production.”
Garry notes that on his operation, since switching to sprinklers, he has nearly doubled production, as compared to flood irrigation.
“It covers more land, and we apply only what water we need to grow the crops,” he explains. “In flood irrigation, you can only cover part of the land, and the water sinks as it goes. Flood irrigation isn’t very efficient.”
Crook took over his family operation nearly 40 years ago. The land is part of an original homestead.
“I farmed for a living,” says Crook, adding that this year, he leased his farmland.
After going to school at the University of Wyoming, Crook worked in the defense industry for 12 years.
“We moved back to take over the ranch and the farm,” he explains. “We also made our living and raised a family here.”
Crook raised alfalfa, grass hay and barley, mentioning that the climate isn’t warm enough to grow corn or wheat. As far as crops that grow in the short growing season, they were fairly limited to hay, oats and barley.
“We planted the crops that work here, and we harvest only one and a half or two crops a year, instead of the three to four that can be done in warmer climates,” Crook says.
Through the years Crook notes that the equipment they use in their operation has also changed to increase the efficiency of farming.
“We started out with small bales,” he says of the alfalfa operation. “Before that, we had loose hay in stacks. Now we have large, round bales. It is a lot less labor intensive.”
“Most of the crops grown here are fed to beef cattle or exported out,” he notes.
Changes in Star Valley
Since moving to Star Valley, Crook has noticed some substantial changes in the valley.
“While we have been here, dairy operations have gone out of business,” he says. “Those were hard changes to work through.”
He also adds that price variation has been challenging.
“When prices were low, lots of companies went out of business, and that was a challenge,” he adds. “Now there is about one-tenth as many people in the dairy industry as there was 20 to 30 years ago.”
He says there were nearly 300 small dairies a number of years ago, while today only a handful operate in the valley.
“The dairy industry changed in general,” he says. “They went from small operations like here in the valley, to production systems where they have several thousand head of cattle per operation.”
Facilities in the dairy industry have also changed from flat barns to the milk houses and free stall barns that are seen today
He has also noticed that farm ground is being converted into subdivisions, a change that has occurred in the past 10 to 15 years.
“A lot of subdivisions have gone in, and retirees have moved into the valley,” Crook explains. “From an agricultural standpoint, land is broken into small ranchettes, so there aren’t as many operations as there used to be.”
He adds that people in the valley have income from other sources, rather than agricultural production.
“Things have changed quite a bit,” Crook notes.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.