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Hey guys,
We are a dryland farm up in northwestern Montana. No experience at all in the irrigated world so not sure what to expect on cost wise to run pivots. Wondering what your guys general rules of thumb are? Things I'm interested in are lease per acre compared to dryland, operating cost, maintenance items/cost per acre you figure, yield percentage increase over dryland, and anything else a dryland guy should know before hand. Thank you!
 

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I dont have a cost per acre to run one because it depends upon the year but maintenance I just figure another tractor motor fuel will also depend on the year so hard to really plan in advance but it takes one of your risks out of mother natures hand which is priceless in my eyes
 

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Hey guys,
We are a dryland farm up in northwestern Montana. No experience at all in the irrigated world so not sure what to expect on cost wise to run pivots. Wondering what your guys general rules of thumb are? Things I'm interested in are lease per acre compared to dryland, operating cost, maintenance items/cost per acre you figure, yield percentage increase over dryland, and anything else a dryland guy should know before hand. Thank you!

Where exactly in Northwestern Montana? Electric or diesel pump? (go with electric, way cheaper in the long run than diesel)
 

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Are you asking about renting irrigated land from others or leasing your own irrigated land out? As far as rent goes, just across the border up here, potato growers are renting irrigated land for around $400 CAD/acre. But for hay and grain crops, I'm sure rent is much lower than that. The owner usually pays the water rates (ours happen to be $20/ac, which is lower than other districts). Pivot maintenance costs are often split with the landowner, but the landowner typically pays for electricity (in my experience) out of his per acre rent.

As for the cost of running a pivot, we've been using a number around $50/ac to include water rates plus electricity. And that doesn't really include ongoing maintenance costs.

Maintenance costs vary year to year, and depend on how much preventative maintenance you do checking tire pressures and gearbox oil levels. We've given up on checking tires because it doesn't seem to matter whether we do it or not. They still go flat. This year running 17 pivots I think we went through maybe 7 or 8 tires (sometimes it's as many as 10) at $400 a pop. Was a good year for gearboxes, though. I think we only replaced 4 total. About $500 each. Replaced a center drive motor this year (a rare ocurrance) too. Microswitches are a common failure point on pivots.

We're not too far from you, so our climate is similar. We typically expect our irrigated crops to double the yield of summerfallowed dryland. And on a year like this, continuously-cropped dryland might yield 18-20 bu/ac wheat, whereas a good irrigated wheat crop in my area (HRS or Durum) would be 80-100. I've never grown dryland canola, so no idea there, but 60-70 bu/ac canola is not unheard of on irrigation.

When it rains a lot, we wonder why we go to all the expense of putting up pivots. Compared to dryland farming, the bump in yield comes from the irrigation and also from increasing inputs. On dryland I might seed 1 bu/ac wheat and only put down 40N,20P, and a bit of K. On irrigation, wheat is seeded closer to 2.5 bu/ac (depends on population count desired), and overall fertilizer is bumped up north of 125#N,40-50#P, 15-25#K. Of that we put 45-60# of N on through the water as the crop grows.

We typically get 16 inches of water allocated each year, but the crops we grow rarely use more than 12.

Logistically, working with circles is different than square fields. Everything you do typically has to be done in halves, because you have to work around the pivot.

What other kinds of information are you looking for? Are you buying a pivot, or renting land that already has a pivot on it? A new pivot, or an older pivot? How many pivots?
 

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Okay I ran some back of the envelope calculations for you on electrical cost. If you put down 12" of water in a year, that makes for nice easy calculations. In one acre you have one acre feet of water which is 325851 gallons/ac. Normally a quarter section pivot runs about 1000 gallons/minute, so that's 326 minutes or 5.4 hours. A typical pump for a pivot this size is a 35 hp which is about 26 kW (real power, not apparent power), so 5.4 h/acre * 26 kW is about 141 KWh/acre. I read that the average residential electrical rate in Montana is just over 10 cents/kWh. But to be conservative, if your rate was 11 cents/kWh, that's roughly $15/ac in electricity costs.

In Alberta our transmission charges are roughly double the generation charges, so we're paying about 6 cents/kWh generation, and nearly 12 cents/kWh transmission, which is nearly $.18 CAD/kWh. Transmission charges here vary according to a measurement of average kW demand.
 

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Wow Torreim. What a difference a few hundred miles away make. This year my rent for my irrigation will work out to about $130 an acre. That includes all repairs, water, electricity and my landlord has to operate it when I say.
 

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Demand for potato land has driven up prices for sure. It would be hard to make that kind of rent make sense with any other crop. Potato rent is a short term, year to year thing, usually. I'm not a fan of potatoes. $400/ac isn't enough to make it worthwhile to me. Rocks, ruts, soil erosion, pivot wear and tear, etc.

I think your $130/ac is more reasonable for general, longer-term rent. That's about what my cousin pays us for a circle of hay he rents from us.
 
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