August 28, 2023

With the 2023 irrigation season coming to an end, it is a good idea to consider what can be done before next year to make irrigation management more efficient. A few things to consider when turning off your pivots for the year: an end-of-the-year checklist so that the pivot equipment is stored properly and is ready for the spring, any possible modifications that could be made to your system, and possible cost-share programs that could benefit your irrigation time and efficiency. Considering these recommendations can help conserve and manage water resources.

A good end-of-season checklist of irrigation maintenance and repair items can help irrigators prevent in-season system breakdowns and delays in watering during next summer's irrigation season. It is recommended that this list of repairs and regular upkeep is taken care of before winter sets in.

  • Putting your pivot system into motion and listening to the gearbox to detect any damage or any bearings that may be wearing out.
  • Inspecting the wheels and tires, then tightening all loose lug bolts, adding air to the tires, and replacing if needed.
  • Listen to the traveler to make sure the drive system does not squeal and/or knock to ensure the system is not working harder than it needs to while running.
  • Inspect the distribution system, turn the water on, and walk the length of the system, looking for leaks, bad seals, and worn-out sprinkler heads.
  • Make sure the pressure gauge works; a good pressure gauge should return to zero when relieved and should show the fluctuation in system pressure as the end gun or sprinklers are turned on or off. Pressure gauges provide important information on the performance of the system.
  • Check irrigation controls and test the function of all the major control and interlock systems.
  • Check center pivot end-gun switches, stop-in slot or park, cornering arm valve controls, and pump interlock systems.
  • Make the most of field yield maps. GPS yield mapping has tremendous potential for improving irrigation design, maintenance, and management.

In most situations, the cost of small minor repairs and improvements is small compared to the price of a new system.

Another consideration when coming to the end of the irrigation season is what modifications can be made to the irrigation system. There may be new and improved technologies and equipment available that can improve efficiency and water conservation, including new variable rate irrigation (VRI) sprinkler packages, soil moisture sensors, flow meters, and the use of drone technology, to name a few.

  • Many new VRI systems allow zone-specific water, nutrients, and pesticide applications. However, the availability of VRI hardware brings the need for criteria for locating specific zones where the water is needed by grid sampling. Operators of VRI systems will then be able to evaluate when and how the water management zone map needs to be changed to meet the water requirements of the crops.
  • Soil moisture sensors measure or estimate the amount of water in the soil. Stationary sensors are placed at predetermined locations and depths in the field. Sensors are often placed at several different locations and depths. It is recommended to place one at each soil type to be monitored and managed separately for irrigation. There are field mapping technologies available that can identify different soil types.
  • Flow meters measure the rate at which water flows through an irrigation system. This is helpful in detecting issues and conserving water. Accurate flow meters remove guesswork and help ensure healthy, productive fields with consideration of irrigation and chemigation applications.
  • By using drone-based platforms farmers can monitor the performance of their irrigation equipment, identify issues such as leaks or efficiencies, and adjust as needed, all without stepping foot in the field. This level of remote management not only saves time and labor but also allows for more responsive and adaptive irrigation management.

These are just a few of the modifications available to improve irrigation efficiency and water conservation. Your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers programs and cost-share options for flow meters, soil moisture sensors, VRI, and other irrigation management options.

To learn more about improving your system’s irrigation efficiency, talk with your local UNL Extension office or contact your local irrigation water specialist. If you are interested in cost-share programs or need help finding an irrigation water specialist, contact NRCS or LCNRD at 402-254-6758 or visit lcnrd.nebraska.gov.



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