Saving flooded irrigation equipment requires diligence

Immersed in the daunting task of rising from this year’s historic flooding, some Nebraska producers may still be wondering if their irrigation systems are beyond repair.

The short answer from irrigation specialists is, yes, you can salvage pivots — depending on the flood.

“A lot depends on how hard the flooding rains were, and how long the crop was under water. Corn breathes like people do,” said Neil Lunzmann, East Region director of sales at Reinke Manufacturing; Deshler, Neb.

Most of the time, irrigation system damage occurs to the drive train (the center drive motor and the two wheel boxes) when there’s infiltration of water, dirt and debris from trees and logs that get washed with the flooding.

“The center drive motor, also called a tower motor, is what drives the wheels that make it go around, and if they’re under water, they’d need to be checked out, and may have to be replaced,” said Lunzmann, who previously farmed corn, soybeans, wheat and had livestock in southeast Nebraska, Nemaha County.

“Do not attempt to start the unit until the motor on the well has completely dried out, or damage may occur. Then drain and replace the oil,” recommended Troy Ingram, crop and water Extension educator, St. Paul, Neb. “Be sure to grease motor bearings by removing the relief plug and adding grease until old grease is expelled.”

If you have an internal combustion engine, make sure the engine is dry and the battery is disconnected before proceeding.

“Drain and replace the oil, pull injectors or spark plugs to make sure no water is in the cylinders before turning over the engine, and replace filters,” Ingram added. “Also, drain cylinders if water is present.”

If the well had contamination, or debris went down the column, it’s more of a concern if the system had an open discharge pipe such as a gravity irrigation system.

“Wells with proper functioning backflow valves are less likely to have contamination or debris,” Ingram explained. “Make sure the pump turns freely, then start up wells that were flooded to pump contaminates out, and shock chlorinate it to kill any bacteria.

“With gearboxes, drain any water present. If oil appears contaminated, drain and refill with new oil.”

If water reached the pivot panel, experts recommend having a service technician or electrician inspect the panel. Be sure to let the panel dry out completely before working on it.

“Also … look over the electrical wiring between the meter pole to the pivot panel box and on the pivot itself to see if any insulation was damaged, or wires were pulled by floating logs and other debris carried along by the flood waters,” said Steve Melvin, irrigated cropping systems Extension educator in Central City, Neb.

On a positive note, the proverbial jury is still out regarding the final calculation on harvest.

“This year’s excessive moisture has had a huge impact on growers,” said Ken Goodall, West Region director of sales at Reinke Manufacturing. “However, we won’t know the total impact until after harvest time.”

Goodall added that the minimal irrigation needs have been advantageous for the growers who didn’t get flooded out, but tough on irrigation dealers who rely on service to make a living, among others.

“It’s also been a hard economic impact on farmers, with far reaching impacts in mills and feedlots, especially in our great states of Nebraska and Kansas, since a lot of people depend on the American farmer to make their money, too,” he said, adding that includes less yield at grain elevators, and when grain elevator employees finish faster, it means fewer wages. “Also, how many hundreds of millions of dollars after Kearney’s flooding, the number of people evacuated in mid-July … also hotels, weddings and basketball tournaments planned and ... canceled.”

Damage has ranged from, as Goodall observed, “Everything from total loss, partial loss, change out a motor or two, to simply drain/clean/inspect and they’re ready to go.”

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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