MOBILE DRIP IRRIGATION: AN INTERVIEW WITH MONTY TEETER
Irrigation Leader Magazine
Teeter Irrigation, Inc., was founded by Monty Teeter in 1977 in his garage and has since grown to eight locations across western Kansas and eastern Colorado. Mr.Teeter’s most groundbreaking invention is Dragon-Line, a system that uses drip tubing to convert a center-pivot irrigation system into a mobile drip irrigation system. In addition to saving water, Dragon-Line applies that water precisely and directly into the soil, rather than spraying it in the air where it can blow away, evaporate, or cause leaf burn. Dragon-Line, LLC, was established as an independent company in 2014, and the technology won the Irrigation Association’s best new agricultural irrigation product award at its 2016 Irrigation Show.
In this interview, Monty Teeter, the founder and chief executive officer of Teeter Irrigation and the founder and president of Dragon-Line, speaks withIrrigation Leader Editor-in-Chief Kris Polly about his company’s history and its current offerings, and about developing and pioneering new technologies in a competitive market.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about your company, Dragon-Line, and how long Dragon-Line has been on the market.
Monty Teeter: Mobile drip irrigation is not a new idea, but I believe that we have perfected and patented the process. I have been involved in the pivot-irrigation business since 1972 and have been a drip-irrigation dealer for more than 25 years. Most people in the drip business don’t work with pivots, and pivot-irrigation people don’t work with drip. Being involved in both industries, I was always intrigued by how much more efficient drip irrigation was than the sprinkler application traditionally used in pivot irrigation.
Monty Teeter, pictured with wife Jean Teeter.About 10 years ago, I became aware of pressure-compensating (PC) emitters for drip irrigation. These emitters are pressure regulated and self flushing, so that each one emits an exact, predetermined amount of water once a minimum pressure is established—regardless of the elevations or topography of a field, and regardless of whether the emitter is at the pivot point or at the end of the overhang. Technology had finally caught up to the idea of mobile drip irrigation, enabling it to be effective and efficient. I used that technology to create Dragon-Line. Dragon-Line is a complete system, including drip tubing, hoses, cabling, and manifolds, that is used to convert a center-pivot irrigation system into a mobile drip irrigation system. We have partnered with the WISH Group, our U.S. distributor and a software company, to generate a sprinkler chart that replaces sprinkler nozzles with a specific length of water-emitting tubing. Today, Dragon- Line is manufactured with 2 gallon-per-hour (GPH) PC emitters welded to the inside of tubing at increments of 6, 12, or 18 inches. The tubing ranges in length from 1 to 100 feet long, depending on GPH requirements and soil type. Five different styles of Dragon-Line have been developed and engineered to adapt to the profile of any brand of center pivot or linear system, whether high or low cropping. Dragon-Line manifolds are made to fit any row spacing, from 20 to 80 inches. We have developed a new winch system that changes the position of the tubing, dragging it on the soil to water for germination and then moving it out of the way as the crop grows. Dragon-Line is entering its third year of marketing commercially after 4 years of development. It holds the only patent that supports the precise attachment of the manifolds and cabling, the flexible leader hose for nonkinking reversing, the use of PC drip-tube emitters, the new winch system, and the orange color of the tubing.
Kris Polly: What are the results that farmers can achieve by using Dragon-Line?
Monty Teeter: I believe more than 15 universities and research centers are testing our product. A new research paper from Utah State University states that by using a mobile drip irrigation technology like Dragon-Line, a farmer can maintain crop yields while saving up to 40 percent of the water he or she would normally use. Over the last 3 years, we have gone from trying to market commercially to developing distribution centers and export marketing. My days are filled with preparing quotes and bids for international and domestic sales.
Kris Polly: After those 3 years of marketing, where is your product being used?
Monty Teeter: We are in 17 states, as well as Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and South Africa, and we will soon have product in New Zealand and Australia, both of which are suffering from a 104-year drought. We are also working with a Chinese firm, that is really interested in selling our technology with their pivot exports worldwide. We are planning to attend a trade show in Mexico in April and will possibly be at trade shows in Brazil and South Africa in late April and May and in New Zealand and Canada in June. We have a significant presence in South Africa. We have a new distributor there named Jacques Willemse. His company is called Dragon-Line Southern Africa. Mr. Willemse contacted me about a year and a half ago seeking new technologies to help fight a drought crisis his region was facing. He came to the United States last May to look at the product, and in October 2018 I went over to South Africa for his company’s launch. It is based in a remote area, about 8 miles south of the Zimbabwe border, so I did not think there would be anyone at all in attendance. In fact, 230 people came. Some drove 10 hours to see what Dragon-Line was about. Since then, Mr. Willemse has ordered around $400,000 worth of product, and he thinks he will continue to buy containers regularly now. People there are not evaluating how long their water will last—they simply do not have water. They need to make every drop count. That is what Dragon-Line is all about. The South African farmers are adapting their farming very quickly to Dragon-Line.
Kris Polly: Tell us about the benefits of Dragon-Line.
Monty Teeter: Dragon-Line brings precise irrigation to precision farming. People spend a lot of money for precision on planters, tractors, and tilling and fertilizer equipment, but then don’t do anything different with their water application. They throw it on the ground and do not manage it properly. Until you manage how you apply the water, you cannot measure it. Everybody is coming out with moisture probes, but if the wind is blowing one day when the pivot goes by, the spot where a probe is may only get 50 percent of the intended water. Then the farmer’s decisions are based on a faulty measurement. That is why precision irrigation is necessary. Orange drip lines are highly visible.We believe Dragon-Line can save 20–50 percent of the water that would be used with conventional water application methods. Mobile drip irrigation significantly reduces evaporation, water runoff, and wind-drift loss. Because Dragon-Line does not hit a plant with cold water, it also eliminates leaf burn from sudden plant shock caused by temperature changes. Dragon-Line also reduces the potential for plant disease by keeping the foliage dry. We apply fertilizer directly to the soil, not to the foliage. It does not compact the soil by continuing to spray and melting the soil particles together, creating hardpan and sealing off the surface. By applying water in a slow- dripping and methodically linear process over a much larger area, we move water into the soil with capillary action and allow it to air out, improving soil texture and the infiltration rate. Dragon-Line waters more accurately than conventional nozzles. There is a limit to how small nozzle manufacturers can make their nozzles, because after a certain point they get plugged too easily. That means that center pivots with nozzles tend to overwater, especially in the first two spans. Dragon-Line can apply a smaller amount of water than most nozzles by using lengths of tubing down to 1 foot. By eliminating overwatering in the first two spans, we can save up to 10 percent of the water and redistribute it at the end of the system. A lot of new technology has come out that enables pivots to move continuously and complete their rotation in less than 2 hours. But that technology has no value if the wheel tracks are wet. We are the solution for dry wheel tracks. We bring value to continuous-move pivots, especially by applying chemicals or fertilizers directly to the soil, not wasting them in the air. Dragon-Line does more than just save water.
Kris Polly: Is your system something that farmers can retrofit on their existing center pivots?
Monty Teeter: Yes. We convert a typical center pivot to a drip system with a conversion package. We have five different styles of conversion, which we select from depending on the type of crop and the topography of the field in question.
Kris Polly: Can technologies like variable rate irrigation (VRI) still be used with your system?
Monty Teeter: Yes. At this point, we have not done many VRI systems because we are usually dealing with people who have a deficit in water anyway, but our system has the potential to make VRI even more efficient. Normally, when a center pivot is using VRI, with nozzles turning on and off out there in the field, it overwaters a lot of the areas where the farmer is trying to control his or her water because of the spread of the nozzles. With Dragon-Line, on the other hand, you can control exactly where the water goes. There is no chance of it spreading into the next zone.
Kris Polly: How have you been finding most of your new customers? Monty Teeter: Customers usually find us via our website or by word of mouth. Others read the results that research centers have been putting out. Most people find us after searching on the Internet for solutions to problems they have been having. New generations look on the Internet to find out solutions rather than going to farm shows or going to dealers. Once they have found the best solution, they go directly to the source. A lot of dealers are already so busy that they do not have the time to try new things or develop new markets, even through growers abroad are crying out for solutions. As a matter of fact, we had a guy here from Chihuahua City, Mexico. Farmers there are having issues with their pivots getting stuck and water running off. They are short of water, and energy is expensive. He read about mobile drip irrigation on the Internet and drove for 14 hours to get here and buy part of a system to take home.
Kris Polly: Would you tell us about how you see your technology developing, and your vision for the future?
Monty Teeter: We have learned a lot from the past, and new ways of using Dragon-Line are still being discovered. For example, I did not think that Dragon-Line could be effectively used to water tomato plants, but users in South Africa modified their system in order to do so. We have the basic principles down, and our users are able to modify them to adapt to their needs. With the tomatoes, they lay them on a big bed. With traditional sprinkler heads, after one or two passes, the soil gets sealed off and the water runs off the bed, with the result that the tomato plants are not effectively watered. What they have done with Dragon-Line is actually to tie two drip lines together so that they are only 8 inches apart on each bed, and they water on each side of the tomato plant, saturating the top of the bed and getting the plant growing fast. We have also developed and patented a new winch system to be used with the Dragon-Line system. There is a winch assembly mounted on each end of the span. If a farmer is watering cotton on sandy soil and does not want to spray water on the whole surface area and melt the clods, he or she can water right where he or she is going to plant. As the plant emerges, the farmer could loosen one side of the span and tighten the other side up, winching the whole manifold assembly over 4–5 inches and providing water next to that young plant. As the plant grows, the farmer can winch the manifold out of the way on a weekly basis. He or she is not watering the entire surface and germinating weeds or wetting the surface for evaporation and sealing, but watering only the plants. Fertilizer can be directly applied to the soil next to the plant as well, not on the foliage itself, so that it is not at risk of being lost to the wind. We have developed a similar system for hemp growers. By winching the system out of the way as that big plant grows, the grower can avoid getting water on the foliage. Dragon-Line is also useful when growing mint and peppermint. The grower can avoid washing the oils off or wiping the seed out.
Kris Polly: What is your message to our readers?
Monty Teeter: People have been working on mobile drip irrigation for years, and we have persevered to prove that it works and can operate effectively. We do more than save our precious resources and manage our water: We increase yields, save expensive energy, keep foliage dry, reduce and eliminate wheel tracks, reduce wear and tear on gearboxes and motors, reduce the compaction and surface sealing of soil, reduce runoff, and deliver nutrients directly to the soil, nearly eliminating wind drift and evaporation. Dragon-Line brings precise irrigation to precision farming. Our mission is to make every drop of water count, and that is what we will continue to work on and improve. We believe that we will change the culture of center-pivot irrigation.
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