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Get your irrigation ready to work this spring

Jeff Caldwell 03/19/2013 @ 9:30am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If you irrigate your crops, don't wait until right before you fire up your motor this spring to get your systems ready for the long growing season. If you do, you could be risking inconsistent application and resulting yield potential loss, one specialist says.

"Giving your irrigation system a thorough check-up and tune-up this spring can lead to more effective water application and potentially, to fewer breakdowns or problems during the heart of the irrigation season," says University of Nebraska Extension water/cropping systems specialist Chuck Burr. "Performing a preseason checkup of your irrigation equipment this spring should be part of your regular maintenance schedule."

But it's not just to keep your irrigation iron working smoothly, and spring maintenance should be considered just the first step in a season-long process of irrigation system maintenance and documentation.

"Component wear happens, resulting in less uniform water application, increased energy use, and untimely breakdowns during your irrigation season. Identify and replace worn components now to have your system ready when you need it," Burr says. "One of the best ways to identify worn components such as sprinklers, pumps, or irrigation systems is to keep good records. Recording the outlet pressure, flow rate, hours of operation, and energy use each month provides an excellent means of evaluating pump and motor performance and identifying changes."

Here's Burr's checklist for specific irrigation system elements to inspect and repair this spring:

  1. Change the engine oil and filter.

  2. Replace the air and fuel filters.

  3. Grease drive shafts on pump and motor.

  4. Check spark plugs on gas, propane, or natural gas motors.

  5. Drain, flush and refill the cooling system.

  6. Refill the drip oil reservoir and allow oil to drain into the drip line based on pump column length.

  7. Ensure that the right-angle gear head is free moving and clean and lubricate non-reverse pins.

  8. Run the motor at the normal operating speed for 45 minutes.

  9. Start the pump and walk along the system looking for malfunctioning sprinklers. Nozzle wear depends on the quality of the water and the system operating pressure. As a rule of thumb, sprinkler replacement should be considered after approximately 10,000-12,000 hours of operation. Be sure to replace malfunctioning nozzles with ones listed on the computer printout you received from the manufacturer.

  10. Check chemigation pump and safety equipment operation. Check hoses and replace if cracking is noticeable.

Once all these tasks are accomplished, it's important to make sure your whole system is working as efficiently as possible, especially now with water likely in short supply in much of the nation's irrigated crop areas.

"Addressing these items will ensure that the system will operate. However, a more difficult task is to determine how efficiently the system is functioning. Periodic pumping plant evaluations will help identify whether the pumping plant is operating at an optimum level," Burr says. "The evaluation should identify the overall operating efficiency and provide the pump outlet pressure, system flow rate, and energy use rate. This information will provide a base point to compare with future operating characteristics. If you have recent pumping plant evaluation results, simply compare the information you collect with the results to determine if the system is becoming less efficient over time."

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