Leaky pipes, flat tires and rodent-infested electrical boxes are issues that should be addressed now by farmers with irrigation systems, says University of Georgia Cooperative Extension precision agriculture and irrigation specialist Wes Porter.
“We want those irrigation systems up and running when we need them. We don’t want to be midway through the production season, needing to apply water, and all of a sudden have a breakdown. Say you notice a leak in your irrigation system while you’re irrigating corn, that could have been fixed right now,” Porter said.
Georgia corn growers begin planting in March (sometimes even late February), so the time is now for producers to address any irrigation issues. According to Porter, the main concerns are with leaks, those in pipes that are visible as well as those that might affect the amount of water being evenly distributed. Turning the pumping system on and letting it run allows producers to check for proper flow rates and pressures throughout the pivot.
Farmers are also encouraged to check the power systems. Whether the system is operated by electricity or a diesel engine, it may be time for service. Growers are advised to change air filters and oil filters, check wires to make sure nothing has chewed on them and check to see if any rodents or bees have started nesting inside electrical boxes.
While leaks are mostly visible, sprinkler uniformity isn’t always easy to see. “If you look at each of the sprinkler heads on a system, it looks like they’re all doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they’re all applying the same amount. However, you may have one that is different from the others,” Porter said.
Without proper uniformity in your system, certain areas may not get the same amount of water as the rest of the field. Knowing this before crops are planted allows growers to be proactive.
“One way to check for uniformity is by putting cups under the pivot and letting it walk to see if all your sprinklers are operating correctly. If all of a sudden you see very low numbers or very high numbers in the amount of fluid you caught, then you can go back and target that area to correct it and see what’s happening,” Porter said. “You could have a stopped-up nozzle, potentially. You could have a leaky nozzle or torn-up nozzle that needs to be corrected.”
Learn more about proper procedures to check pivot uniformity through the UGA fact sheet found at t.uga.edu/273.
Farmers may not realize the tires on the pivot need to be checked, too. Just like the tires go flat on a car that’s left unused for an extended period of time, so too can the tires on irrigation systems that haven’t been used since last fall.
“It’s something that can be easily fixed right now when you’re out in an open field away from crops. You get that system in the middle of a crop, it’s really hard to get out there with some tools and get that tire pulled off without being just miserable out there, sitting on your knees. We don’t want (you) to have to do that,” Porter said.
Growers with irrigation concerns are advised to contact their local UGA Extension agent for more information.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)