At the end of every growing season, farmers put away most of the tools of their trade, make repairs to some that need it, while others are simply cleaned and left in place until the next season. Tractors, harvesters, and similar equipment may be stored during the winter months or perhaps repaired prior to storage.
What about irrigation systems?
Introduction to Irrigation Systems
First, an irrigation system is a method of delivering water to an area where it is needed but is lacking.
Second, irrigation systems are common today and can be seen supplying water to lawns and gardens in urban areas, and crop fields in rural areas.
Third, irrigation systems are vital to agricultural systems in the United States, and worldwide, and are vital to our livelihoods.
Fourth, without question, we MUST maintain irrigation systems by keeping them clean.
Why do irrigation systems need to be clean?
Before we answer that question, let’s talk about irrigation techniques.
Irrigation of crops has been around since man started to cultivate crops. At first, water was applied to crops manually, a low-tech method that is still being used today. Though it was an effective method used to apply an essential resource to crops, manual irrigation techniques are labor intensive and not efficient for applying water to meet the needs of crop growth on a large scale.
Eventually, new techniques were developed that made it possible to automate crop irrigation. Further advancements over the past several years has unearthed a number of highly technical and specialized crop irrigation systems. These advanced irrigation systems require an infrastructure of pumps, pipes, and more to deliver the water from its source to the crop. Two examples are drip irrigation and spray irrigation.
What is drip irrigation?
- An irrigation system that consists of plastic pipes, with holes in them, that are laid along the row of crops or buried along their root lines. Water is sent through the pipes and seeps out of the holes to irrigate crops.
What is spray irrigation?
- An irrigation system that is similar to the way one might water a lawn at their home – standing with a hose and spraying water out in all directions.
- These irrigation systems are characterized by having a long pipe fixed at one end to a water source. Water flows through pipes and is shot out onto crops by a system of emitters. Two commonly used spray irrigation systems are overhead sprinkler and center-pivot.
- Overhead sprinkler irrigation system – water is pumped into pipes under pressure and sprayed down onto plants from flat spray nozzles.
- Center-pivot irrigation system – consists of a number of metal frames on rolling wheels that hold the water pipes in the field. The pipe is fixed to the water source at the center of the circle. A big water gun (emitter) at the end of the pipe delivers the water onto the plants. Electric motors move each frame in a big circle around the field.
Maintaining irrigation systems
Irrigation systems are maintained in good functioning order by undergoing routine maintenance tasks usually at the end of the crop growing season before winter. In addition, prior to the beginning of a new season, the irrigation system should be checked to ensure that is in good working order. One important check is done at the end of the growing season.
Checking the irrigation system at the end of every season is just as essential as any maintenance and upkeep that is done for any other farm machinery and equipment. Typically, the irrigation system is flushed using water to:
- Check for leaks and remove debris that may plug the emitters/nozzles.
- Check sprinklers to verify that water flow and pattern matches the irrigation system design.
- Visually inspect sprinklers for consistency in their distribution pattern. Faulty sprinklers should be replaced when detected.
- Use a pressure gauge to verify the pressure at the pump, pivot point, and end of the pivot. The pressure from in-season should compare to end-of-season pressure
End of season maintenance checks make it possible to also examine gearboxes, wheels, tires, and other parts that some irrigation systems rely upon for the delivery of water.
Cleaning irrigation systems
Okay, let’s now get back to talking about why it’s vital that the irrigation system be cleaned.
It all comes down to the quality of water being used for irrigation and which is delivered by the irrigation system.
Water for irrigation comes from a variety of sources that include lakes, ponds, rivers, wells, and municipal water systems, and may have large differences in quality. For example,
- Well water and municipal water is generally free of debris, clean, and may require only a screen or disc filter to remove particles in the water.
- Lake, pond, and river water will contain inorganic solids such as soil particles (sand, silt, and clay); organic solids such as algae, bacteria, and slime; and dissolved solids such as iron, sulfur, and calcium.
Furthermore, the role of pH of irrigation water is important. The pH of irrigation water determines whether or not certain cations that are prevalent in some lake, pond, and river waters will remain in solution (typically when pH is low) or precipitate and potentially lead to blockages within the irrigation system.
Analyzing the quality of water sources prior to installing an irrigation system will help identify inorganic solids, organic solids, and dissolved solids particular to a water source. The local Cooperative Extension Service County agent can supply a list of laboratories within the state that provide this service.
Now that you know the quality of the water, what next?
- First, the water quality report will identify substances in the water that are likely to become problematic during the crop growing season. If not addressed, identified problems may lead to insufficient amounts of irrigation water reaching crops, eventually affecting crop yields and revenue.
- Second, the water quality report will indicate what type of remedies need to be put in place to ensure that the irrigation system runs smoothly during the season.
- Third, the water quality report will indicate what type of cleaning needs to be done at the end of the growing season.
The irrigation system flush at the end of the growing season helps clear out the buildup of unwanted material in the pipes, like bacteria and residual calcium salts.
Using an acid to flush out the pipes at the end of the growing season helps to clean out salt deposits of manganese, calcium, iron, and other cations commonly found in water.
What are some examples of products that are specifically designed to clean irrigation systems?
- Royal Flush™
- An anti-clogging, line maintenance flush, and stain control product.
- Designed for low volume irrigation systems.
- Will unclog emitters.
- Royal Conditioner™
- An anti-clogging, line maintenance flush, and stain control product.
- Contains a water conditioning agent.
- Controls iron and calcium stains.
- For more information about Royal Flush™ and Royal Conditioner™, please visit www.brewerint.com.
Read the label and use caution
When flushing an irrigation system using an acid-based product, like Royal Flush™ and Royal Conditioner™, wear proper safety equipment to protect your face, hands, and skin.
- Hrozencik, A. 2021. Irrigation and Water Use. USDA-ERS. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/irrigation-water-use/background/. Accessed, Sept. 28, 2021.
- Lamont, B. 2012. Maintaining Drip Irrigation Systems. Penn State Univ. Hort. and Extn. Publ. https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2056/2014/01/Maintaining-Drip-Irrigation-Systems-Bill-Lamont-Penn-State.pdf. Accessed, Sept. 28, 2021.
- Schaible, G. 2017. Understanding Irrigated Agriculture. USDA-ERS. https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2017/june/understanding-irrigated-agriculture/. Accessed, Sept. 28, 2021.
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