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South Dakota farmer feels ‘lucky’ he can water alfalfa

A Huron, South Dakota, farmer who has a manufacturing job in town, says that in the middle of a drought he’s happy to have an unusual, small-scale irrigation system to feed his dairy-quality alfalfa crops. His family bought the system in 1976, and its served them through several droughts.

HURON, South Dakota — Until the past two years, farmers in the Huron, South Dakota, have had excessive water.

Now they’re in one of the notable droughts in 30 years.

Steve Broer (pronounced “BREW-ur”) said he’s happy he has a 1970s irrigation system to help keep part of his 300 acres productive.

“I’d be in trouble if I didn’t have it,” Broer said.

Steve Broer (pronounced “BREW-ur”) of rural Huron, South Dakota says he’d be in “trouble” in 2021 with his hay production, if not for a small irrigation system. Photo taken June 30, 2021, in rural Huron, South Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Broer, 57, said his family has contended with droughts and flooding across the decades, but this turnabout has been impressive.

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“This particular field here, half of it was under water all year,” Broer said, as he stopped to check on his irrigator, running on some alfalfa. “It’s just been this spring that the water has dissipated. Now, we’re in conditions where it doesn’t seem to want to rain.”

June 2021 was bone dry.

He got about 1.8 inches in early July that has kept the crops limping along.

The family installed irrigation in 1976, during an earlier drought. They dug a well and used a tow-line sprinkler system to water about 130 acres to produce hay and crops.

In the 1980s, a neighboring uncle had been using two Big Boss Gun irrigation systems. The uncle put in a center pivot system and sold one of the Big Boss systems. He kept the other and Steve acquired it about 15 years ago.

The Broer (pronounced “BREW-ur”) families of Huron, South Dakota, in 1976 acquired this Big Boss Gun irrigation system and it’s helped them survive through several droughts A tractor serves as an anchor for a turbine-winch, that pulls it 1,400 feet, watering a 300-foot swath daily. Photo taken June 30, 2021, in rural Huron, South Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Big Boss Gun is labor intensive. It is provided with a 1½-inch nozzle on a rotating irrigation gun.

“You can shoot 360 degrees, and it has stops so you can set it to water one side or whatever,” Steve said. “It’s got a 700-foot hose, and will water a little over 300 feet wide.”

It takes about 18 hours to run a 1,400 foot long stretch, 300 feet wide, Broer said. That does about 10 acres a day, give or take. In low gear, he puts 2 to 3 inches on a day. Broer measures it in a bucket. It takes a half hour to reset, every night.

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“It takes six days to get across 52 acres — not fast but better than nothing," he said.

Broer uses a tractor to hold a cable.

“It’s on a turbine winch and it just pulls itself across the field and drags the hose with it,” he said, adding he’s not sure whether it’s possible to get the same model today. “I am looking for components for them right now. That’s pretty difficult. I called the manufacturing plant in Nebraska where they assembled it.”

In a drought, Broers are thankful for a diversified family income. Steve works in parts for Huron Manufacturing Corp., which makes Easi-Pour line of slip-form concrete paving machines.

His son, Parker, is a recent graduate from Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota, and runs some yearlings on the family’s pastures. Parker currently works for Pheasants Forever.

Broer acknowledges hay prices are roughly double what they were before the drought.

“I’m lucky and have that opportunity; not everybody has that luck,” he said. He’s been getting a little over a ton per acre over three cuttings and plans on a fourth cutting.

“I can’t produce enough for what the guys have been calling for,” he said. “As soon as I get the hay off this time, I’m going to start irrigating again."

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