Diener has long been recognized over the years for his innovations. Talk to anyone on the West Side and the word “leader” will be used to describe him.

His latest commendation is the Leopold Conservation Award. This recognition centered on the drainage project. It also notes his pioneering efforts in conservation tillage as well as overhead, mechanical irrigation with center pivots.

Center pivots date bask to the 1950s and were tried early on in California. They did not work like they have in the Midwest and the Texas Panhandle for a variety of reasons. However, with sophisticated sprinkler packages that can be developed for each span to match application rates for California’s wide array of soil types, drop tubes to move the sprinkler from the top of the pivots to just above the ground, and boom systems to keep water off drive wheels and minimize machines getting stuck — California farmers are taking another look at mechanical irrigation.

However, wheels can still bog down. “I asked people with center pivots what they do and they said they put rocks or gravel down in the wheel tracks. I have spent my whole life getting rocks out of fields. I am not going to put rocks or gravel back on the land,” he laughed. Diener’s solution was to scatter orchard pruning chippings in the wheel tracks. He developed a small spreader to pull behind a tractor to deposit the chips.

“They decompose, and we put down more chips. However, eventually the tracks firm up and you don’t really need the chips,” he explained.

Labor savings with automation, as well as the ability to apply fertilizers and chemicals throughout, are also making the systems popular in California. For example, he applied the herbicide Buctril and urea in a wheat field through a drip system for less than $1 per acre in labor costs. Applying both by airplane would be $10.50 per acre.

The move to pivots and in some cases linear mechanical systems is following a 10-year offensive of growers switching to drip irrigation for field crops for reasons similar to converting to pivots. Drip was introduced into California in the mid 1970s to irrigate trees and vines. Diener irrigates with drip and micro-sprinklers on his almonds and grapes. This not only saves water, but reduces cost by allowing him to use no-till on permanent crops, which he’s done since 1997.

Dan Munk, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Fresno County, estimates that 90 percent of the processing tomatoes on the West Side of the San Joaquin are irrigated with either buried or above ground drip.

Diener uses it on his tomatoes along with the Sundance minimum tillage system for drip systems and to maintain beds and reduce tillage. He cultivates his tomatoes only twice now.

Diener has been working with Munk and Jeff Mitchell, UC conservation tillage guru, adapting strip-till and minimum tillage to grow grains and other crops under pivots. He doubled cropped wheat and corn under a pivot and harvested 11 tons per acre.

Diener was one of first in the Valley to use a yield monitor/GPS system on a combine. “I got a really good white corn contract for about 85 acres of corn. I took the yield map from the wheat and selected the best 85 acres under a pivot for the corn.” The corn yielded 9 tons per acre with minimum till and pest and nutrient management via the pivot.

Drip irrigation is a larger capital expense compared to pivots ($1,000 compared to about $500 for pivots). Growers are experimenting with tomatoes under pivots.

Irrigation labor costs are minimal to manage both drip and pivot compared to hand lines or furrow irrigation. One man can operate at least 10 135-acre pivots.

Diener is operating 11 pivots. His efforts have resulted in 35 to 40 additional pivots in the Valley, according to Munk.