Before shutting down your irrigation system for the winter, experts suggest conducting a quick inspection – performing routine maintenance and making a plan for any necessary repairs.
“A thorough inspection can help identify potential problems that could result in costly delays or breakdowns next year,” said Evan Carlson, field engineer at Lindsay Corporation. “If you can’t make all of the repairs before winter sets in, take photos or create a detailed list of the things you need to take care of before the next growing season.”
Experts from Michigan State Extension put together a list of irrigation system inspection and maintenance tips. They encourage irrigators to:
- Listen to each center pivot tower drive system to detect gearbox damage or worn bearings. Identify gearbox leaks and mark for later repair.
- Inspect wheels for loose lug bolts and tires for cracks and wear. If you add air to tires in the fall and they are not still full in the spring, they should be replaced or patched.
- Listen to the traveler drive system at the point of greatest stress – beginning of the run for hard hose traveler or end of the run or pull for soft hose systems. Note squeals and knocks that can indicate bearing or equipment wear.
- Turn the water on and walk the length of the system or coverage area and list all the needed repairs. Mark or photograph leaks, bad seals or worn out sprinklers that can be repaired over fall and winter. Also watch big guns and end guns for a few cycles. Hesitations in advancing around the semi-circle or in reversing are indication of a needed tune-up or bearing and seal replacement.
- Make sure the pressure gauge works – a good gauge should return to zero when system pressure is relieved and should show the fluctuation in system pressure as the end gun or additional sprinklers are turned on and off.
- With a good gauge, note the date and operating pressure. A log of operating pressures taken periodically throughout the season should highlight performance of the pump/screen and the static water level the pump pulls from. Expect that normal seasonal fluctuation will create a lower pressure reading in late summer/early fall than a spring reading when water levels are at seasonal highs.
- Test the function of all major control and interlock systems, and check center pivot end gun switches, stop-in slot or park, cornering arm valve controls and pump interlock systems.
- Check stop barricades for integrity, making sure the height is still appropriate for the machine’s turn-off mechanism. Newer style stop barricades are designed to catch and spin the tire against the barricade, allowing the last tower safety timer to shut down the pivot as a backup safety system. Tire skid marks on the barricade indicate the primary stop switch has failed and needs to be replaced.
- Make the most of yield maps - GPS yield mapping can help improve irrigation design, maintenance and management.