[an error occurred while processing this directive] ZEPHYR Magazine
                              T H E
                           Z E P H Y R
                  __     M A G A Z I N E
                 Issue #63                4-26-89
            A weekly electronic magazine for users of 
                        THE ZEPHYR II BBS 
                    (Mesa, AZ - 602-894-6526)
                owned and operated by T. H. Smith
                    Editor - Gene B. Williams 
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                            (c) 1989
   Most of you know him - Lyle Knox. He's fairly new to the 
boards, but one of the old-timers when it comes to simply 
being around. His family has been in farming here in Arizona 
for quite some time (and take it from me, he knows his stuff!).
   The article may not be of direct interest to most of you. 
Laser leveling is practical only on a fairly large scale. Still, 
it's a part of our lives. An important part.
   First, it's high-tech, a topic of interest to many of us.
   Second, it shows that scientific discoveries really DON'T 
need to be turned into weapons.
   Third, agriculture affects all of us directly in several ways. 
We eat the food grown, wear the clothes made from fibers of other 
plants . . . . 
   Fourth, the water used to grow crops in Arizona belongs to 
all of us. Every drop conserved - or every drop wasted - is of 
direct concern to all of us.
   You may never have any laser leveling done, but every time a 
farmer does, our precious water supply is conserved.  


                    FLOOD IRRIGATED FARMLAND


                            Lyle Knox

   When most people think of lasers they think of spaceships, 
death-rays and "Star Wars"; but there is a very practical side to 
the use of lasers.  Lasers are used in surgery, heavy industry, 
electronics, construction, and many other areas where almost 
perfectly straight lines or pure color light is needed, and this 
includes farming.
   The way lasers are used most in the farming industry is as a 
guide for the leveling of flood irrigated farmland in the Western 
U.S.  There are three major benefits to laser leveling farmland 
here in the West.  First, and formost, is water conservation 
which leads directly to the second benefit which is lower crop 
production costs.  The third major benefit is higher and more 
uniform crop yields.
   Let me first explain the laser leveling process.  LASER is an 
acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of 
Radiation; suffice it to say that a laser beam is a beam of light 
that is completely "pure" (of a single frequency).  A small low-
power laser is used; a 5 milliwatt laser being the most common, 
and generally gives a range of about 1,000 feet.  The laser is 
vertically mounted in a windowed housing that looks much like a 
miniature light house.  The laser beam is projected up against a 
mirror that is angled at 45 degrees from the laser and rotates 
several times a second.  This produces the plane of light that is 
the reference point for the leveling process.  The mounting case 
also has an automatic leveling device in it to keep the plane of 
rotation level or at a preset angle.  This unit is placed in the 
middle of the field on a stand 10 to 15 feet above the ground.  
The earth moving equipment has a sensor located on it that 
"reads" the beam and tells the operator the elevation of the 
equipment in relation to the guide beam.  Most systems are 
automated and control the elevation of the cutting blade; when 
the tractor hits a high spot the blade is lowered, taking a cut, 
and when a low spot is encountered the blade is raised, letting 
dirt spill out, filling the hole.  The operator only needs to 
drive to the high spots to fill his bucket then move to the low 
spots to unload and fill the hole level.  
   Water is the lifeblood of the Arizona farmer and without it 
there would be little or no farming here.  With our growing 
population changes were needed in our water laws; and in the past 
few years, we have seen these changes made.  Conservation of our 
water was the most important point of these changes and by laser 
leveling farmland, many acre feet of water can be saved by 
   The efficiency of water use depends largely on how level the 
ground is and soil type.  On the average, a 50-70 percent 
efficiency rate is seen; this can be increased to 85 and even as 
high as 95 percent.  (Dino DeSimone, interview, 5 May, 1986.)  
These high results are seen mostly in what is known as "level 
basin" fields.  Level basins are fields that are dead level, that 
is, having no slope whatsoever.  These basins allow farmers to 
precisely control water application rates by varying the time 
each area is watered.  This is done both by increasing or 
decreasing the rate at which water enters the basin as well as 
the total volume allowed to enter.  (Ken Lucas, "Level Basin 
Irrigation in Mojave County," Arizona Farmer-Ranchman, Sept. 
1979, p. 24.)  
   This system lends itself to automation very readily by having 
computers control water gates to individual fields with the 
farmer programming in exactly how much water is needed and how 
fast.  (Lucas, p. 24)  All this conservation is not only mandated 
by law, it's also necessary if a farmer is to stay in business in 
this day and age. Water costs are the largest expense that an 
Arizona farmer has and any way to substantially reduce these 
costs is not only good business sense it is vital, or the farmer 
may find himself OUT of business.  The previously discussed level 
basin type of system is only used where water is relatively 
scarce; most farmers only use a "best-fit" type of laser leveling 
to move as little dirt as possible, again keeping down production 
   Water use efficiencies aren't quite as high as level basin 
systems but any increase over what was previously seen is 
justified.  My own experience is with best-fit type of leveling 
and I can say that our water use has decreased by 20-25 percent 
over the last 5 years.  Labor expenses are decreased also because 
much less physical labor is needed to irrigate level fields.
   The third major asset of laser leveling fields is the increase 
in crop yields, which translates directly into dollars.  Fields 
that are laser leveled show much more uniform crops (no dry or 
overly wet spots) as well as an overall increase for the field as 
a whole.  Two examples in Casa Grande point this out very well.  
   One case went from 1100 pounds of ginned cotton per acre to 
1350 pounds the next year, a 22.7 percent increase.  The second 
case started at 900 pounds per acre and increased to 1300 pounds 
the next year, a 44 percent increase!  Both examples used 48 acre 
inches of water, down from a previous use of 68 acre inched (from 
60 percent to 85 percent efficiency).  (DeSimone)
   As can easily be seen, laser leveling paid off extremely well 
in these two cases and, if done correctly, pays off in nearly 
every other area where it is done.
   Laser leveling works:  saving our water, reducing production 
costs, and increasing yields which benefits everyone, farmers and 
consumers alike.  Farmers conserving water means helping to 
assure an ample supply for the future; cutting production costs 
and increasing yields mean increased profits for the farmer as 
well as insuring adequate food and fiber supplies at reasonable 
prices for the consumer.


     DeSimone, Dino.  Soil Conservationist with Arizona Soil
             Conservation Service.  Telephone interview.  5 May,

     Lucas, Ken.  "Level Basin Irrigation in Mojave County."  Arizona
             Farmer-Ranchman.  September 1979: 23-28.


   Thanks, Lyle! 
   Next time - I hope to be out from under this present deadline 
shortly. And one of my first tasks will be to knock out two or 
three issues for the magazine. Meanwhile, since downloads are not 
presently available, I'll pull some old issues for repost.
   So many of our users are new, so these issues will also be 
"new" to most people. For the old-timers on the board, it will 
have been a while.
   (As a side note - when Thane fixes the upload/download section, 
all back issues will once again be available.)
   Meanwhile, a new project has come up. Perhaps some of you have 
suggestions. I need a number of simple experiments that can be 
done by children - figure 5th or 6th grade. 
   I'd prefer these to come in private mail, but will break the 
usual magazine area policy and allow them on the board if you 
   Otherwise, the topic is specifically laser leveling. Legitimate 
side topics include almost anything having to do with efficient 
farming techniques, raising food, water conservation, water in 
Arizona in general . . . 

Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.