In the 1950s, the landscape of agriculture underwent a significant transformation with Frank Zybach’s introduction of the center pivot sprinkler irrigation system. With its commercialization, led by figures like Robert Daugherty, vast stretches of the Great Plains in the U.S. became arable powerhouses. These once rain-dependent lands now had the capability to support consistently high-yielding crops. However, as with any potent innovation, understanding its nuances and ensuring its optimal operation is crucial.
Before the planting season begins, preventive maintenance becomes paramount. Check the tire condition, make sure the lug nuts are tight and tires are at the proper pressure. Drain moisture buildup at the gearbox by loosening the plug. Ensure the gearbox oil levels are optimal. If needed, grease the pivot point bearings. Test the sprinkler pressure at the pivot, and make sure you have the correct numbers for the pressure and flow rate that the system was designed for. It’s also the time to make sure you have your irrigation schedule prepared appropriately for the crop that water is being applied to. If you’re operating with water allocations or permits, make sure you remember what you have available.
Equally crucial is verifying the system’s proper grounding to ensure its safe operation throughout the season. If conditions permit, a brief pivot test run can reveal issues such as misalignments, water leaks, clogged nozzles or even missing components. Modern center pivots often come with telemetry and associated apps, facilitating real-time monitoring. This is also a good time to confirm the system’s communication and its responsiveness to commands such as starting and stopping.
Remember that your center pivots are just a part of a larger set of factors in your crop’s development, including weather and crop management.
Remember that your center pivots are just a part of a larger set of factors in your crop’s development, including weather and crop management. Keeping your center pivots working correctly will ensure that this part of the equation is supporting crop health as much as possible.
As the growing season unfolds, periodic drive-by checks become invaluable, especially when crops are still in the early stages. When doing a drive-by check, there are a few different types of indicators that can be helpful in making a quick decision about how well a center pivot is working. That is, in a drive-by, you can directly see if a system is operating and moving correctly or in need of repair.
It’s always a priority to monitor the pressure and flow rate at the pivot point, ensuring they match the design specifications.
Start by making sure the sprinklers are operating and there aren’t any plugged nozzles. It’s always a priority to monitor the pressure and flow rate at the pivot point, ensuring they match the design specifications. As crops develop, the crops’ health, such as visible water stress, can be a tell-tale sign of the system’s performance. Certain patterns such as rings or wheel spokes are likely indicators of nozzle or pressure issues, respectively. Look for runoff and ponding as well, as those might be indicators that the pivot is dealing with a leak or should be sped up and applying less water per pass.
If your center pivots have telemetry or remote operation available, a quick daily check-in can supplement those regular drive-by assessments.
In a lot of ways, a daily remote check mirrors many of the same ideas you’d use for a physical check-in. Note if the pivot is where it’s meant to be at that time and whether the end gun and aux ports are operating as you expect.
Depending on what information is being collected, if a soil water sensor is installed, check the data to ensure that the correct water depth is being reached and staying within the desired threshold to meet crop water requirements and prevent deep percolation.
As the season draws to a close, recording water usage, tracking operational hours and preparing the system for its off-season are pivotal. Ensuring compliance with water permit limits and allocations underpins both legal and sustainable operations. This is also a good time to clear out sand traps and drain water from the pivot while getting it ready for winter. Moreover, yield maps can be helpful to pinpoint if any low-yield zones are a result of center pivot inefficiencies.
Every handful of years, a more thorough inspection is helpful. Regular audits, perhaps every five years or sooner if issues arise, offer a holistic system assessment. This time is ideal for reevaluating the sprinkler package design, conducting pumping plant performance reviews, examining system components and making necessary replacements or updates. A catch can test can be beneficial to gauge the center pivot’s application uniformity.
By following these steps and properly maintaining center pivot sprinkler systems, growers can ensure optimal performance of their pivots, leading to successful crop production.
Center pivot maintenance goes beyond daily checks. Look through these additional checklists for ideas of what to keep in mind on a weekly or annual basis.
▶ WEEKLY ITEMS:
▶ ANNUAL ITEMS:
Start of season
End of season