Winter is here. Producers should have finished farm operations for the growing season. But if there’s an irrigation system on the farm, it’s time to be sure it's been winterized.
Irrigation systems should be checked thoroughly at the end of the fall season to maintain proper operation for the next growing season. Consider basic steps that can be followed to protect an irrigation system as well as to ensure the system is ready for the next growing season.
- Conduct the uniformity test and check the sprinkler performance. Perform a “catch can” uniformity test to ensure the system is applying water uniformly and if there are any leaks, missing or damaged sprinklers, damaged pipes or regulators that need to be repaired or replaced. Visit z.umn.edu/IrrigationUnifromityTesting for details about the uniformity test. If uniformity test results are poor, consider replacing the sprinkler package. The useful life of sprinkler heads ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 hours of pivot operation.
- Check system components and secure them. Check all motor and pump openings to see they are closed properly to keep rodents out. Lock the control box in the OFF position. Repair any panel-door damage to keep moisture and rodents out of the panel. Producers may consider application of long-residual-action insecticide to the bottom of the box. Ensure all connections to the control box are tight and all connection surfaces are free of corrosion. If there’s a flow meter and pressure gauges, remove and store them in a warm place for winter.
- Drain the irrigation system. Drain all water-carrying pipes, valves, tanks, booster pumps or anything above-ground that can hold water. Also drain the pump casing to remove any water. Empty and clean out the sand trap at the end of the pivot.
- Service parts. Check all gearboxes on the towers for any water or moisture accumulation, lubricate fittings, service drive lines and the motor on pivot towers. The oil in the gearboxes should be replaced every year before winter arrives. Service the engine used to drive the pump.
- Park the pivot in the correct place. Park the system parallel to prevailing winds.
- Check tires, wheel track and pivot point. Check air pressure in each pivot tire. Repair the wheel track for ruts by filling it in the fall to reduce erosion during winter and spring. Clean all vegetation around the pivot point and well to avoid rodents and grazing cattle.
The end of the growing season gives producers an opportunity to look back and take note of any problems they encountered during the growing season -- and then plan how to address them before the next season. Take time for some recordkeeping. The winter months also allow producers to think about new technologies and install them for the next season. Consider looking for new technologies that help with irrigation scheduling.
The listed tips can help protect an irrigation system in the winter and ensure it's ready to water for the next season. However some components might be different or there might be more parts on the system, so also check for those specific system components.
Visit blog-crop-news.extension.umn.edu for more information.
Vasudha Sharma is an irrigation specialist for the University of Minnesota-Extension. Visit bbe.umn.edu for more information.