Eaton’s Rod Weimer wins national Farmer of the Year award for drip irrigation efforts
Before installing a drip irrigation system at Fagerberg Produce, Rod Weimer said he didn’t know anything about computers.
More than 15 years later, Weimer is a whiz with the smartphone app that controls the irrigation in 850 acres of Fagerberg Produce fields, which he manages.
“My first thought was, ‘I don’t even know how to turn on a computer. How am I going to be able to do this?’ ” he said. “With the help of my daughters, I learned how to work the computers. Today, it’s like I knew it all my life.”
The Netafim subsurface drip irrigation system was installed at Fagerberg Produce in 1998, and it was the first of its kind in the state.
It still draws many visitors who want to learn more about the irrigation method, including an annual visit by some of Colorado State University’s agriculture studies students.
For his efforts in introducing Fagerberg Produce and the rest of Colorado to the drip irrigation system, Weimer last month was awarded the 2015 Precision Agriculture Farmer of the Year Award at the InfoAg Conference held in St. Louis, Mo.
Weimer, who lives in Eaton, Colo., was chosen out of farmers nominated from all over the country to receive the award from the PrecisionAg Institute.
PrecisionAg is described on its website as a diversified, independent media enterprise serving the global community using precision agriculture techniques — adjusting production inputs and practices based on in-field variability, typically through use of geographic positioning systems and other technologies
The Farmer of the Year award was won in partnership with Fagerberg Produce, a fact Weimer is always sure to highlight.
“Without the company, I wouldn’t have the resources to do what we did,” he said.
Fagerberg Produce owner Lynn Fagerberg has been extremely supportive of the whole project, he said.
“It’s so important to have an owner who allows you the resources and then it’s up to us to work,” Weimer said. “They give us those resources and trust us to do our jobs.”
The drip irrigation job wasn’t a short or simple undertaking, Weimer said.
In Colorado and westward — where farms fight for every drop of water to grow good produce — that water saving is important.
The Netafim system saves about 40 percent of the water output for the fields in which it sits, and it’s easy to manage.
“We’re running five farms in the 850 acres off my phone,” he said. “I can travel anywhere in the world and still access it.”
The system allows for more fields planted in drought years. Fields with drip irrigation typically see high yields and better crop quality, Weimer said.
He first heard of the systems at a Colorado State University event more than 17 years ago.
“From that point on I started researching drip, and I flew across the United States trying to find a system that would fit our needs,” he said.
In the late ’90s, it wasn’t easy to find such a technologically advanced system. In a time before a smart phone could be found in every pocket, the irrigation system relied on GPS and remote signals.
In the beginning, the innovation was taking place in Fresno, Calif., and most of the companies driving the technology didn’t want to set them up in Colorado because there was no service team nearby.
“Finally, after being very persistent I had a company that supported me and flew out and did a training on GPS so we could support it ourselves,” Weimer said.
He said it was scary, of course, but worth the effort.
Technology has improved through the years, and Weimer was able to evolve from running the system only from his personal computer to his smart phone today.
“It keeps changing and we keep adding,” Weimer said. “Every time there is a change, something new, something better, we add it.”
Weimer grew up in Kersey, Colo., and he’s been on a farm since birth, so he knew the importance of water conservation from a young age.
“I’ve always loved it,” he said. “I love playing in the dirt. I love seeing Mother Nature let you grow something fantastic.”
He’s been with Fagerberg Produce for nearly 28 years, and he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really want to stress that, yeah, it’s my name on the award and I won Farmer of the Year, but it’s a company involvement,” he said.
Those first few years of adjusting to the drip irrigation were a bit scary, but ultimately, Weimer said they made the right choice.
He said the first time they turned it on, there were leaks everywhere thanks to some hungry field mice.
“I think my neighbors thought we were crazy,” he said. “There was a learning curve.”
But they quickly worked out the kinks, and the system has been smooth sailing since.
“Lynn Fagerberg and myself, we’ve always been excited for change,” he said. “If you don’t keep up with the time — with the technology that’s available — it’s going to be hard to survive.”
“This is a means of survival for us.” ❖
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