By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
SUMMERVILLE To a farmer, land is money, either coming in or going out. If the land is being damaged and forced to be unproductive it is money going out, painfully.
Even if it is just a bit of land, say the width of a tire track.
That, two years ago, was Summerville-area farmer Don Starrs painful problem. Each year, he would watch the soil under the tires of the center-pivot irrigation tower break down and crumble into ever-deepening ruts. If there was rain, the ruts would become channels for water, further breaking down the soil.
It was painful to watch. There had to be a better way.
Starr and a friend talked it out and came up with an idea that they felt could be cost-effective, soil-saving, and be an understandable way to solve a nagging problem.
Its called Starr Trak, a basic $900 add-on to one or more towers of a center-pivot irrigation system that can be ordered, produced in a day or so, and put on a tower in a matter of hours to end severe ditching problems in fields.
Starr Trak requires that the tower owner purchase two additional tires, and then order the Starr Trak to fit the tires.
The system joins the now-doubled tires with an extended axle, and then wraps the tires with a specialized rubber track with horizontal metal cleats bolted to the outside of the tracks. The track assembly then is bolted at every cleat to a framework that keeps the system in place.
The men started with the idea that we needed something that might help float the thing, Starr said of the tower assembly.
They thought of two wide double-tires, and various other things, but there was the issue of the torque on a center-pivot irrigation towers tires and other problems related to a double-tire assembly moving along the ground.
So they kept working on the idea. As the system was refined a few farmers agreed to try it; field testing is at the heart of the matter.
Starr says the results so far are just what was sought. In one hillside field, Starr shows where two summers ago, deep ruts scored the earth, created by erosion and runoff water.
Today, while the tracks are still visible, they arent deep into the soil, and new shoots of the field crop are growing up.
Local results were so good that Starr decided to go ahead with production and this summer began advertising.
A grant from the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District provided surety for startup funding, although so far Starr admits to building the Starr Traks by using other farm accounts but I cant keep doing that, he says.
We started about three months ago, with the overall manufacturing, Starr said, but admits that some precision-engineered equipment hasnt arrived yet, causing a great deal of careful handwork to go into the first Starr Trak systems.
Through its early development, the Starr Trak system has had to work through some of the inherent problems of center-pivot irrigation, including that the tires on the towers are canted, forcing a double-tire system to be set up with different tire pressure. And torque was a problem in the set-up.
But the track-mounting design seems to have solved the initial problems, with the added benefit that the system doesnt cause wear-and-tear on the towers tires.
Weve got two years on ours, Starr says, pointing to the hillside irrigation system, and weve gone from 10- to 12-inch wide tracks to 2- to 3-inch wide depressions where the track moves.
Weve made terrific gains, in stopping erosion, Starr adds.
Starr believes that a market exists for the Starr Trak, although he acknowledges that the need to solve the erosion problem hasnt drawn enough attention from large irrigation-system companies to get them involved.
But soil loss, equipment down-time, and field repairs required by erosion seem worth solving to him, and thus was born the Starr Trak idea.
I dont have any idea where this will go, but it seems to solve the problem, he says.
Starr is quick to add that he doubts anyone would outfit an entire 10-tower irrigation system with Starr Trak. He sees farmers adding the system to a problem tower, or maybe two.
Nothing says you have to use it everywhere on the system, he makes clear.
Starr Trak is currently doing advertising regionally, and Starr plans to demonstrate it at some agricultural shows this winter. He has the people ready to build the add-on system whenever orders arrive, with about a day or two turn-around I did my whole circle (of towers) for a demonstration in about three or four days, and we did it the hard way with torches to fit it, Starr says.
I think this is a real beneficial thing, Starr says, then pauses to chuckle at himself. He explains that hes never dreamed up or invented anything before, and when he did, he had to come up with something that while saving farmers in the long view requires another initial investment.
But then serious again, he points out the benefits of the Starr Trak system.
Were trying to solve the problem (of erosion and soil loss) rather than just apply a Band Aid.