Last week we had a guest blog from Dr. Chris Anderson, Iowa State University. Dr. Anderson discussed how Upper Midwestern farmers could use ponds and wetlands to provide supplemental irrigation, while at the same time provide environmental benefits. In this week’s post, you’ll meet Jim Sladek, a real live Iowa farmer who has built a pond for the sole purpose of supplemental irrigation. Jim tells his story to Lynn Betts, freelance writer. If you would prefer to hear Jim, in his own words, watch the companion video.
PondBuilder’s Speed and Efficiency “Amazing”
Eastern Iowa farmer Jim Sladek knew in minutes he could build a 19-acre irrigation pond
Sladek knows the lay of his land well, and had a site in mind he felt might work as a surface water supply. But he needed more than his hunch it would work if he was going to invest in a major irrigation system.
“I felt there was a logical location for a pond,” Sladek says. He called his contractor, Bruce Barnhart, and took him to the proposed site when he came to the farm one day. “I asked him for his opinion on whether we could build a pond at the site,” Sladek recalls. “He calls Tom Buman at Agren. Tom asked if we had time to go back to my office to use our computer for an online meeting.”
“We did that—Tom used Agren’s internet-based PondBuilder program to verify this was a good location for a pond, and within half an hour we had basically all the information my contractor needed to build the pond!”
“I thought that was amazing for a couple of reasons,” Sladek says. “From a cost standpoint, it was extremely efficient. In very short order, we knew we had a location that would work for a pond. Within half an hour, we knew we could go ahead and move forward with our project. That was extremely valuable to me. We had a small window of time to decide whether we pull the trigger and commit to purchasing the equipment this year,” Sladek says. He adds that it would have taken much longer to get essentially the same information through traditional processes.
“Basically all the information we needed we got from PondBuilder,” Sladek says. “I could show you the engineering plan and the plan Tom did in half an hour and they’re virtually the same. The final design is right at 19 acres of surface water, while I think Tom’s surface area was 17 or 18 acres, so there’s a slight difference in the height of the dam.”
“The PondBuilder plan had estimated construction costs, the height of the dam, the pond’s surface area, and the estimated drainage area that would be filling the pond. It had the acre-feet of water, too—all the information that our contractor would have needed to build the pond. But those plans are not currently acceptable to DNR as design plans, so we went ahead and hired an engineering firm to draw us up a set of plans,” Sladek says.
“For the pond’s design, we put out a bid to three engineering firms,” Sladek says. “All three had access to the information I got from PondBuilder in making their bids. Two came back with extremely high bids. The third—one I would call more progressive—sees their business is changing and is adapting to use the newer technology. They were able to use the information Agren’s program provided to cut costs and speed up their process. That’s the firm we worked with. The difference in cost between the firm we hired and the other two that were still using the traditional approach was ten-fold.”
Good for earthmoving contractors
“My first thought very early on was to get Jim in touch with Agren, because I know their software can indicate in a few minutes if a pond is feasible. If it is, PondBuilder then gives my clients a quick, quality plan for a pond that’s much more accurate than anything I can offer,” says Bruce Barnhart, the earthmoving contractor who built Sladek’s pond.
“So the program makes me more professional in the eyes of my clients. And we are more professional and up to date with technology. With PondBuilder, we can use that plan to feed elevations into our dozer blades. The resulting machine control makes us more efficient in the construction process.”
Planning time reduced by a year
“Without PondBuilder, I would have had to hire an engineering firm to do an engineering plan just to determine if the site could be a logical site for a pond,” Sladek says. After that, there were about ten different time-consuming and expensive permits and processes that took six months to resolve. If I wouldn’t have had that information early on from Agren, it would have probably taken me an additional year to build the pond. I think Agren’s software is really changing the way engineers are going to do their jobs.”
Did Sladek have other reasons for wanting to get his irrigation system up and running? “We’re farming mostly Tama-Muscatine soils with high CSR’s that most people don’t think need to be irrigated,” he says. “Our first priority on our farms is to pattern tile, and our second priority is to put irrigation on it if we have a water source. We feel over a ten-year period, we can average over a 50-bushel increase in yields with irrigation.”
“To me, the real value of the PondBuilder program is the efficiency in both time and cost—being able to speed up the decision-making process and allow us to move forward with good information much quicker than we could have otherwise.”