“We have to conserve inputs, both from a cost standpoint and an environmental standpoint,” Lewis says. “When fertilizer was $200 a ton we could perhaps afford a blanket application, but even so, it wasn’t good for the environment. Now, with fertilizer more than $600 per ton, applying just what’s needed, and no more, is a must.”

He now applies potash, DAP and other nutrients with GPS-guided, variable rate spreaders. As part of his nutrient management plan, he applies nitrogen to some fields through the irrigation pivots. He has one fertigation pump located at the pumping station and can fertigate through any of the 10 pivots. “This is more efficient and less expensive than moving a fertilizer truck from field to field,” he notes.

Though he has a viable water source (Bennetts Creek) to run all his pivots, Lewis says in some dry years salt can be a problem in the water.

“We’re connected to the Albermarle Sound, and in extreme dry periods salt can back up into the water supply. I have tested during extreme dry times, and have adjusted watering to NCDA recommendations.”

Among his water-saving strategies is running two floating pumps in two drainage canals, which catch excess water during time of heavy rainfall. By using water that would typically be lost to leaching and evaporation, he is able to run two pivots most of the year.

He also recently became involved in an irrigation-sharing project with fellow farmer and friend, Dennis Trotman. They each farm a contiguous field and rather than installing two 40-acre pivots, they share one more efficient 80-acre system.

“It’s easy to do, because the costs can be easily calculated,” Lewis says. “Dennis and I split the cost of installing the system and operating it. It’s something that other farmers might want to look at, as we get more and more concerned about the availability of water.”


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