Photo of the Xtra-X track system for pivot wheels
Featured,  Innovator,  Interview

Reinventing the Wheel Irrigation Revolution’s Track Systems

Irrigators around the United States spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours every year dealing with problems with the tires on their pivot systems. Traditional tire systems are prone to flats, create large ruts in the ground, and can be costly to maintain. Irrigation Revolution has created an effective solution to the problems of traditional tire systems with their Xtra-X track system, which was first displayed at Husker Harvest Days 2017. The Xtra-X system is designed to reduce the ground pressure of a pivot to significantly reduce the size of ruts created. Results show that the Xtra-X system reduces rut size by 80 percent.

Irrigation Revolution is looking to help farmers all around the United States increase the efficiency of their pivot systems while reducing operational costs. Irrigation Leader’s editor-in-chief, Kris Polly, spoke with the founder and CEO of Irrigation Revolution, John Cates, about his Xtra-X track system, its benefits to farmers, and Irrigation Revolution’s vision for the future.

Kris Polly: How long have you been in business?

John Cates: I have been in business for 2 years, but I have been designing, developing, and testing for 5. Kris Polly: Could you please tell us about your professional background?

John Cates: When I graduated from high school, I traveled all over the United States servicing ethanol plants in the maintenance department. I did that for about 2 years, and then, for the next 4 years I worked in manufacturing for a company that made parts for companies like Kawasaki, Case, and New Holland. I then worked a stint at New Holland manufacturing in Grand Island, Nebraska. For the last 8 years, I have been an agronomist for an ag research company.

Kris Polly: You are familiar with manufacturing and agriculture? John Cates: Absolutely.

Kris Polly: Would you please tell us where your company is located?

John Cates: I am out of Giltner, Nebraska, which is a small town that is pretty big in the agriculture industry. It only has 400 people, but it has four companies that ship agricultural products all around the world. Kris Polly: Would you please tell us about how you came up with the idea for your track?

John Cates: For a long time, I wanted to be an innovator and find new and better ways to do something. I actually have lots of product ideas that I want to do, and I had gotten to a point financially where I had to pick one and run with it. Corner machines are much bigger here in Nebraska than they are anywhere else, I would say. The majority of swing towers are in Nebraska, and I knew that there were no really great options for guys who were having problems with their corner machines getting stuck or cutting deep ruts. I set out to develop a solution that was not only practical but affordable.

Kris Polly: What is the design life of your product?

John Cates: Every situation is different. When I started out, I did not know that anyone else made tracks for pivots. The first one I built was pretty similar to some of the other ones that you see out on the market. I ran into a guy who had tracks on a side-by-side, and when I told him that I was developing some for pivots, he informed me that Lindsay Manufacturing had a couple out. That was the first time that I realized someone else had a similar product. I did a patent search and found theirs. Mine was pretty similar to their design, so I was not sure I could get around their patent.

So then I reinvented the whole wheel. I started from scratch and came up with what I thought was a great plan and went from there. I talked to some guys from the major pivot companies—engineers, marketing managers, and dealerxs—and learned that they were only getting an average of 3–6 years of life out of their tracks. That is one of the big advantages to mine: It can be rebuilt. If something goes wrong, you can take it apart in the field and fix it. To answer your question, I would say it will go 5–10 years before you have to replace anything, and the overall track life is going to be in the 15-year range. My aim was to make something you can repair with basic hand tools in the field, on the machine, keeping it really simple. Farmers like to fix their own things; they do not like to spend that money if they do not have to. I keep the farmer mentality in my head as I make things; I try to make things that farmers would appreciate. It is the little details that make the difference.

Kris Polly: Is your product galvanized?

John Cates: Absolutely.

Kris Polly: Do you use standard off-the-shelf bearings and parts that are readily accessible?

John Cates: For the most part, yes. Obviously, the track is not—the track is my design—but the bearings are readily accessible. I would not have to ship those out, but I have been telling farmers that if a bearing does go out, I am going to sell them my bearings at cost because I do not want them putting cheap bearings in. Your reputation is everything. If the bearing goes out and the farmer replaces it with a cheap bearing, and that one goes out, they are going to start saying, “What’s going on?”

Kris Polly: So your track is patented?

John Cates: Yes, it is.

Kris Polly: How long has your track been on the market?

John Cates: I have only been selling them commercially for 21/2years. I have sold to some farmers locally who have been running the tracks for 5 years, but I have only been pushing the sales really hard the past 21/2years.

Kris Polly: Are your tracks primarily for corner systems or the entire pivot system?

John Cates: I have farmers who are buying them for the whole pivot and farmers who are buying them for the corner machines. That is the nice thing about the design: It is equivalent to a tire in terms of speed. You don’t have to change a bunch of things. Say you have a problem on tower 3 or tower 4—you can direct-replace the tire and not have to change out the center drive or gearboxes.

Kris Polly: You can have a mix of tires and tracks?

John Cates: Yes.

Kris Polly: What are the advantages of a track over a tire?

John Cates: Tracks put less strain on things. They are constant drive, unlike a tire. If a tire gets stuck, it will sit there and only grab every once in a while—that doesn’t happen with a track. Using tracks also means your machine requires less maintenance, because tracks put less strain on the gearboxes and the center

drive than tires do. Just one of my tracks is equal to eight 11.2-24 tires and almost four 11.2-38 tires as far as surface area on the ground—it has over 750 square inches of ground contact. On the standard tower, the pressure is less than two pounds per square inch.Kris Polly: Do your tracks create ruts?

John Cates: We are seeing an 80 percent reduction in ruts with our track. That’s a pretty big reduction.

Kris Polly: What message would you have for our readers, specifically farmers who are using pivots?

John Cates: I think that the biggest thing is the reduction in downtime. Stuck pivots and flat tires cost a lot of money. You may not realize that until it happens. You don’t grasp the magnitude of a stuck pivot and all the corn that you have to run over, beans you have to get unstuck; the downtime from watering and how much yield you could lose. Preventing downtime is very important, especially during the season when you have to water. Everyone knows that you get what you pay for. These tracks are the most cost effective in terms of price-per-square-inch of value. My tracks beat everyone else hands down. Eight tires would cost you over $3,000.

Kris Polly: Do you offer discounts if someone buys an entire pivot?

John Cates: I can work with farmers on full systems. I am trying to stay at dealer pricing to keep everyone happy, and I work directly with dealers and farmers.

Kris Polly: Would you please share your vision for the company going forward?

John Cates: The sky is the limit, to be honest. I know two people locally who, despite not doing a whole lot of marketing for their company, have still been able to almost double their growth just about every year. I have that same vision: to blossom gradually every year. I set numbers that I want to build every year. It takes a lot of money to do this, and you have to rein in a little bit and not get too far ahead of yourself. I would rather keep the numbers low for now and make sure the product that is leaving is absolutely perfect. Your reputation is everything: No one hears about a good product, but everyone hears about a bad one. I want to get to the point where I can build mass quantities every single year.

You can reach John Cates at Jcates2424@gmail.com or at (308) 370-7438.