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farmer in field inspecting the irrigation systemInvesting a little time into properly maintaining and inspecting your irrigation equipment can help you spot and avoid preventable losses before they occur. Here are a few tips on what you can do to keep your system running smoothly:

  1. Create a maintenance plan to inspect and document any damage to your irrigation system. Take photos of parts damaged or in need of repair while also writing down details about the repairs you will need to make over the winter months. Use this detailed repair list to take advantage of the fall specials and incentives for parts, service and repair work.
  2. Inspect your equipment:
    • Center Pivot – Look for damaged gearboxes and listen for worn bearings while the center pivot is in motion.
    • Distribution System – Turn on the water and walk the length of the system to check for bad seals, leaks and worn-out sprinklers. Also, make sure the sprinklers are spraying the field and not onto a roadway. Overspray onto a road may cause an auto accident, and if someone is hurt or their car is damaged, you could be responsible. 
    • Drive System – Locate bearing and equipment wear by listening for knocks and squeals in the drive system.
    • Wheels – Check the tires for cracks and wear along with loose lug bolts.
    • Pressure Gauges – Check to ensure gauges are working properly. If you are not keeping a log of the operating pressures throughout the season, you should start a log. Seasonal fluctuations may occur when water levels are at a seasonal high during late summer/early fall causing a lower pressure unlike the spring readings. Try to stay within a 5% variation of the pressure and discharge values to ensure your equipment is in working order. If the range goes above or below the 5% mark, you will need to look for the failure point and make immediate repairs to maintain an adequate water supply for your crops.
    • Water Flow – To understand the water flow and pressure at the pivot point of your irrigation system, measure the water flow when all of your sprinklers and endgun are on. You may notice a 10% or greater difference in what your sprinkler package specifies compared to what occurs when the system is running all the sprinklers and endgun.
    • Irrigation Control and Interlock Systems – Check all major parts to ensure they are working and note if any irrigation control and interlock systems repairs are needed.
    • Stop Barricades – Check for skid marks on the stop barricades. Skid marks can indicate a failed stop switch needs replacing.
    • Yield Sensors – Calibrate the yield sensors before harvesting an irrigated field. Investigate low and high yield areas of a field’s harvest against the field’s irrigation data. You can use aerial photos to look at the irrigation system and yield map to identify the problem areas.
  3. Keep an application chart in your maintenance plan, so you can compare the actual applications to the application chart to reveal watering consistency and timing problems.
  4. Compare irrigated and non-irrigated fields to determine if you need to invest more in your irrigation systems.
  5. Check culvert pipes are in-place and that there is no erosion around mini-bridges over drainage ditches following excessive rainstorms to prevent collapse losses to your irrigation system. A collapse will occur if the irrigation pivot support wheels travel over one of these crossings that is no longer in place or supported.
  6. Install lightning arrestors to help reduce lightening damage to your irrigation equipment.
  7. Review the repairs needed and associated costs. Irrigation systems are costly, so  improvements and repairs often outweigh the cost of a new system. If your system covers a large number of crops or acreage, consider replacing it or repairing it before a mid-summer catastrophe, which can be costly.
  8. Before beginning any repairs, disable the unit and turn off the electrical supply going to the irrigation system needing repairs. Failing to disable a system can lead to the electrification of the system and possible electrocution of nearby workers.

Regular maintenance may not prevent lighting strikes, straight-line wind damage or tornado damage to center pivot irrigation systems; however, just using a little common sense in the field can go a long way in reducing other preventable losses. For example, irrigation equipment can rust from the inside out causing the equipment to overturn more easily. To lessen damage to the equipment, always make sure your fields remain clear of objects, such as large rocks, stumps, vehicles or other equipment. 

It's also important to routinely check your insurance policies to ensure they are up to date and that your irrigation equipment is properly insured. Your local Farm Bureau Insurance agent can help! Be sure to ask about the new Ag Promise policy and coverages that are available in South Carolina, including equipment breakdown.