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Living off the Land

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Melon growers deal with pests

Special Correspondent
COYANOSA, Apr. 25, 2000 -- Recent wind storms have hardly been a problem for Coyanosa farmers Alvaro, Tony and Armando Mandujano, who claim their watermelon crops have suffered more damage at the hands -actually the paws - of local wildlife.

Currently the most destructive creature has been rabbits, said Armando Mandujano, the youngest of the three partners. He said the outlaying areas of their 120-acre, watermelon field bear the damage caused by the large rodent.

Although young watermelon plants are not their favorite mainstay, Mandujano said because of the drought, "They'll eat whatever they can find...and they just work right down the line without skipping a plant."

Other pests include birds, which will eat the seed, "although they weren't much of problem this year," said Armando.

 "Mice and quail," also pose a minor problem, added Tony Mandujano.

"The quail just cut the small plants but don't eat it," Armando said.

When asked what the solution is to their problem, the two brothers answered, "a rifle."

"Looks like I'm gonna have to pull out my .22," said Tony. Armando added that another way to control the wildlife comes with keeping the field clean of debris from previous seasons. "We try to keep it clean," he said, adding "we planted cotton here last year."

Armando said that the smaller pests don't bother the mature plants, "once they've vined," But then javelinas and coyotes come into play.

With the wildlife problems at hand, the two brothers praise their recent investment into a, "drip irrigation system."

The Mandujanos said the system consists of the main pump that carries underground water into main tubes that run outside the length of the field and feed water to tubing that runs about 12-inches underneath the ground of each groove where the plants were planted about 16-inches apart.

Water is emitted from, "drip meters", that are spaced 24-inches apart, along the groove-length tubing, Tony said. When split open the one-inch, flexible tubing revels a tiny vent-like apparatus attached to the inner wall just underneath a small opening in the tube, where the water is released.

Tony pointed out that dark, evenly spaced areas in the soil indicate where a meter is located. Kicking some of the dirt clods and turning up the soil, Armando pointed out the moisture that is vital to a successful crop.

Tony said that one plus to the drip irrigation system is that, "we don't lose much water to evaporation." Armando added that because the, "water comes up through the meters," and is then penetrated evenly throughout the soil, it never reaches the surface.

This system also helps control weeds, according Tony Mandujano. "Because the moisture is at the bottom, the weed seed doesn't spread," as easily as they would in above ground irrigation systems,” he said.

Armando said this is good where vegetable and fruit crops are concerned, "because you can't use herbicides," as commonly as one would on a cotton crop, for example.

A third positive factor about the watering system, said Armando, lies in the fact that because the water is spread more uniformly, "you've got the same size melons all over."

He added that calcium buildup within the water lines is controlled by pumping suluric acid treatments through the water system. "We try to keep the Ph at 6.5," Armando said.

The brothers, who agree that the task of installing the new system was a hard one, say they feel it was well worth the trouble. They claimed that they experimented with the new method of watering their crops last year by installing it throughout only a few sections and have since expanded it to include their entire watermelon crop.

"Watermelons take about 90 days," Armando said, as the brothers pointed out a section of their crop with more mature plants.

"We planted these earlier on," than the rest of the sections, said Armando, explaining that the earlier a crop is planted the higher the risk of freezing and damage from unpredictable weather conditions, not to mention the wildlife.

Tony said the trio started breaking ground in January and are now seeing the "fruits" of their labor. "We're pretty satisfied," said Armando.

The siblings ventured out on their own four years ago after helping and learning from their father, Alvaro Mandujano, a 14-year-veteran-farmer.

Along with 140-acre watermelon crop, the brothers share their skills, talent add knowledge to grow cantaloupe, cotton and hay, making their farming duties a year-round responsibility.

"We still work together," said Tony of the brothers and their father, who still group together to sell their crops at harvest time.

New method to lower water’s ph tested

Staff Writer
PECOS, Apr. 25, 2000 -- Salt is a pretty common commodity in West Texas. So is sulphur. But water is not.

Getting the salt out of what water there is in the area is one problem area agriculture officials are looking at, but finding a cheap way to mix sulphur with the high salt content water is the Texas A&M Agriculture Experiement Station is looking at right now, as a way of offsetting the high sodium levels of local wells in order to increase yields on area farmland.

The Experiment Station has begun a test project in which sulphur will be heated and then added into the station’s water supply before being used on some of its land west of Pecos, experiment station director Mike Murphy said Monday.

Murphy said the acid generation unit is being given a test in Pecos, but similar units already are in use on two golf courses in the Midland-Odessa area.

“Greentree (Country Club) has two in use on its golf course and the Ratliff Ranch has one in use,” Murphy said.

He said the idea of mixing sulphur in with water is nothing new. “It’s been used in the (Rio Grande) valley for years and years, but the price of shipping it in got to be too much.”

However, in West Texas, “sulphur is a natural bi-product of oil and gas wells, so it’s not very far to haul the sulhpur,” from a treatment plant near Odessa back to the Pecos area.

Murphy said sulphur like the type that had been mined from the recently-closed Freeport McMoRan mine northwest of Pecos could not be used because it was not pure enough, and would stop up the vents in the acid generator that allow the heated sulphur to mix with the water.

“It takes 99.5 percent raw sulphur and melts it down. The vapor changes to sulfuric acid,” he said. The acid is then mixed with water and applied to a test plot at the experiment station.

“We hope it lowers the ph of the soil enough so more nutrients are made available,” Murphy said.

 The lower the ph number, the more acidic the soil is. Area soils, with their high sodium contest, also have very high ph numbers. “If you change the ph from 7.0 to 6.8, that does a lot towards changing the nutrient levels,” he said.

Heat from the acid generator creates a vacuum, which sucks water from the ditch into the generator, where it is mixed with the sulphur vapor and then returned to the ditch, Murphy explained. The mixture is at about a 1:20 ratio, with 50 gallons of treated water for ever 1000 gallons of untreated water.

“The ph in the ditch is 6.8. After it went through the acid generator it came out at 2.8, which is fairly acidic,” he explained. “That water is mixed with the other water in the ditch, and it dropped the ph level from 6.8 to 5.8.”

Sweetwater Farming, Inc., or Utah owns the patent to the process. “They brought it down from Utah,” Murphy said. “It’s the same size as the ones they use as the golf course, and it puts out as much as 200 gallons a minute.”

He said under the system, it takes about 10 backs of sulphur to treat about 40 acres of farmland.

“The whole reason to do this is to find a way to improve the (nutrient) infiltration rate,” Murphy said, while adding a thorough test of the process is not feasible at the experiment station right now, since the generator is on loan from Sweetwater Farming.

“It needs to be done for two or three years in a row to see if we have the same results, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to get the man to let us use the unit three years in a row,” he said.

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