The narrative of a small family farmer prospering after many years of hard work and sacrifice is an iconic version of the American dream. Achieving this dream requires a farmer to overcome many obstacles, both natural and manmade. Dee Waldron is someone who has lived that dream, growing up on a family farm, striving to acquire the land and water needed to grow his business, and now owning a successful agricultural enterprise for beef, barley, and other crops. In this interview, Mr. Waldron tells Irrigation Leader how he began his journey, how he has used innovative irrigation strategies to ensure proper water for his crops and cattle, and the importance of cooperative conservation of water for all water users in Utah’s Weber Basin.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Dee Waldron: I started farming when I was in high school with my father and his brother. I helped milk cows and do other farm work. In 1967, I bought a tractor and started doing custom work in addition to helping my family with farm work. In 1978, I purchased Waldron Brothers, starting with my uncle’s half of the farm and shortly thereafter purchasing my dad’s half of the farm. I farmed, operated a dairy, and raised and sold fat beef. In 1982, I built a shop and purchased tire equipment to work on commercial and tractor tires. Today, that business has become a full-service tire store with an ag division selling fertilizer, chemicals, and seed and providing custom farming. My daughter Lindsey and my son Aaron manage the business. I’m no longer in the dairy industry, but my beef operation has continued to grow.
Irrigation Leader: Do you grow crops today as well?
Dee Waldron: Yes, we primarily raise alfalfa, barley, corn, and grass hay. We have tried cover crops in rotational years for improved soil health.We have irrigated ground, pasture ground, dry farm, and range ground.
Irrigation Leader: Tell us about the part of Morgan County you are located in and its climate.
Dee Waldron: We’re 5,400 feet above sea level. Our farming season usually starts in March and ends in September or October, when we have a hard frost. Morgan County has cool nights and warm days. We are located approximately 7 miles below the East Canyon Reservoir.
Irrigation Leader: How much water do you need, where do you get that water, what is the source, and who supplies it to you?
Dee Waldron: We get water from the East Canyon Reservoir and from Hardscrabble Creek. The East Canyon Reservoir is a Bureau of Reclamation project. The West Richville Irrigation and Canal Company supplies the water to us. Our flood water is 20 feet, our high water is 12 feet, and our low water is 7 feet. We have 400 acre-feet of additional reservoir water that we add to the system to make the stream a little larger.
Much of our farm uses flood irrigation, and we prefer it that way. It allows us to irrigate many acres in a short amount of time. In order to make flood irrigation more efficient, we have changed the original concrete ditch to an underground piped system. We charge it and then take off the pipes we want to irrigate from.
Irrigation Leader: Would you explain in a little more detail how the irrigation system works?
Dee Waldron: The top of the pipe is buried approximately 24–28 inches deep. The water drops into the pipe system from the canal. We have screens in place to keep debris from entering the pipe. We close the headgate at the bottom, and the system fills with water. Every 20 feet, we have a 34‑inch vertical pipe. The water fills the vertical pipes. We remove eight vertical pipes per set and continue this pattern through the field. This pattern moves 16 cubic feet per second of water at a speed of 1,180 feet per hour. Prior to the pipe system, the same acreage would take 3 days to water, whether it was corn, hay, or barley. We can irrigate the same acreage in 18 hours with this system.
Irrigation Leader: What was the motivation behind putting in all that infrastructure? Was it mainly to save money, to be more efficient in terms of time, or to respond to restricted water supplies during droughts?
Dee Waldron: All the above. The biggest concern right now is conserving water. We live in a desert state. Water is precious. When we went from irrigating for 3½ days to 18 hours on that same 64‑acre field, we saved a tremendous amount of water. Now, I water with a big volume of water, but I move it more quickly and efficiently. I save money on labor; it is fast and easy to pull and cap and change to the next watering set. All my other irrigated acres have the same irrigation pipe system. As a bonus, I have had constantly better yields since putting in the watering system.
Irrigation Leader: Was there anything else about your on-farm water efficiency projects you wanted to add?
Dee Waldron: Leveling is a key. Irrigation is so much more efficient if you’re on level ground. Every field that has been updated to a pipe system has also been laser leveled. This makes watering much more efficient—so much so that when we rotate an alfalfa crop, we laser level again before we put it back into alfalfa. Our crop rotation cycle lasts approximately 5 years.
Irrigation Leader: What is your role in the Weber River Water Users Association?
Dee Waldron: I am on the board of directors. Our responsibility is to efficiently provide for the water needs of our agriculture and city customers. Our goal is to maintain and build infrastructure for present and future generations. Basically, we are the stewards of the Weber River water system.
My dad was the deputy water commissioner and served in that capacity for several years. My son Aaron is currently the water deputy. Conserving water is the name of the game. If we have a drought year, then our conservation practices are life saving. If there is a good, wet year, we still need to have good conservation practices.
I am also currently on the board of trustees and serve as the board president for the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which services 700,000 water customers in five counties of Utah.